Tech Support Operation Selling Bogus Services Charged by FTC, Florida
A federal court has temporarily shut down the defendants' operation and frozen their assets
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of Florida have taken action against a tech support operation for tricking customers into paying for unnecessary services.
According to the joint complaint, the defendants misrepresented to consumers that malware or hackers had compromised their computers. Additionally, the defendants fraudulently claimed to be associated with or certified by Microsoft and Apple to fix their computers. The scam relied on a combination of deceptive online ads and misleading, high-pressure sales tactics to frighten consumers into spending hundreds of dollars for dubious computer "repairs" and antivirus software.
A federal court has temporarily shut down the defendants' operation, frozen their assets, and placed control of the businesses with a court-appointed receiver.
"Scammers like these use incredibly deceptive tactics that make consumers think they are receiving warnings from legitimate technology companies," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a written statement. "We are proud to work with the Florida Attorney General's Office to put an end to these fraudulent practices."
The complaint indicates that the defendants caused consumers' computers to display advertisements designed to resemble security alerts from Microsoft or Apple. These ads warned consumers that their computers could be infected with malware and urged them to call a toll-free number in the ad to safeguard both their computer and sensitive personal information stored on it.
Consumers who called the numbers in these ads were routed to the defendants' call center in Boynton Beach, FL, where representatives would run series of "diagnostics" that discovered the existence of pressing issues that must be immediately fixed. These fixes would require the services of a "certified technician," and cost the consumer between $200 and $300. The defendants also frequently told consumers that they needed to spend an additional $200 to $500 to replace their existing antivirus software, which the defendants always claimed was outdated and ineffective.
The complaint notes that the software peddled by the defendants could be purchased for a fraction of the cost the defendants charged. Often, the software sold for use in Apple computers was available as a free download.
The defendants in the case are BigDog Solutions (doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global), PC Help Desk US (doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global), Inbound Call Specialist LLC, BlackOpteck CE, 9138242 Canada Corporation, Digital Growth Properties, Christopher J. Costanza (doing business as CJM Consulting), Suzanne W. Harris, Muzaffar Abbas, Gary Oberman, Donald Dolphin, and Justin Powers.
The defendants are charged with violations of the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Florida Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The FTC and State of Florida are seeking to permanently stop the alleged illegal practices and obtain refunds for the victimized businesses.
The FTC has taken many actions against tech support operations since 2010, shutting down scams and collecting significant compensation for consumers.
For information on how to protect yourself from tech support scam artists, see the FTC's Tech Support Scams Consumer Information page.