For victims of Antivirus 7, is justice an impossible dream?

By Robert McCartney
Thursday, March 25, 2010

A loathsome computer scam crippled my laptop, and I wanted revenge.

It began nearly three weeks ago. While I was browsing the Internet, a scary red alert popped up on my screen. Viruses and worms had been detected on my computer! I must "click here" for a full security scan!

It looked legitimate. The logo and page design reminded me of my own antivirus program. I clicked.

Big mistake.

I had fallen for a rogue security program, or "scareware," called "Antivirus 7." Once entrenched, it sent a relentless stream of pop-up warnings that my computer was about to crash or my identity be stolen. The constant alerts made my computer unusable. They offered only one solution: Pull out my credit card and pay $51.95 for Antivirus 7.

The cyberswindlers didn't get my money, but they cost me a heap of frustration. It took two weeks and four visits to The Washington Post's IT department to get my computer back to normal.

The Zen thing would have been to let go of my anger and move forward. But I was so peeved that I resolved to hunt down and confront the creeps who did this to me.

Quixotic? You bet. Bad hackers can route viruses and other malicious programs through multiple sites from anywhere in the world. But I figured it might be possible to "follow the money," because the lowlifes relied on credit card payments.

I began my quest by reading the official-looking "terms" for buying Antivirus 7. It said the agreement had been made "in accordance with Dutch law."

The Dutch? But they always seem so nice and civilized. Surely they couldn't be behind it. I called the embassy anyway.

Some e-mail traffic across the Atlantic showed it was a false trail. The Dutch government's anti-cybercrime agency was aware of the program and said it was indeed scareware. Moreover, it was designed to look like a genuine, award-winning antivirus program, called Antivir 7, sold in 2006 by the Dutch firm Avira.

Next I went to the Federal Trade Commission. It's supposed to protect consumers against computer fraud, among other things.

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