The Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday that it has temporarily shut down two telemarketing operations that, the agency alleges, were dedicated to tricking customers into buying fake technical support.
The agency announced action against two separate operations, both based in Florida. One case includes charges against the makers and sellers of software called " PC Cleaner"; the other names companies doing business as Boost Software Inc. and OMG Tech Help. The FTC says the two companies have cheated consumers out of $120 million.
As the Palm Beach Post reported, OMG Tech Help's offices were raided earlier this week by the FTC. One of the defendants named in the suit against that company, Elliot Loewenstern, in 2004 pleaded guilty to federal charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, the report said.
Offering false technical support is an all-too common way that scammers prey on computer users -- often older computer users -- who fear their computers have been infected with malicious software. In a standard scam, criminals will call and claim to have found a virus on a person's computer and "prove" it to the call recipients by instructing them to navigate to harmless but little-used menus that they claim are evidence of a virus. From there, scammers then convince users to pay them to remove the "virus."
In these cases, the companies largely followed that template, offering users software that didn't do anything at all and then charging them between $29 and $49 to "activate" it.
“These operations prey on consumers’ lack of technical knowledge with deceptive pitches and high-pressure tactics to sell useless software and services to the tune of millions of dollars,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement.
Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment. There is a notice on OMG Tech Help's Web site that says its offices are presently closed and that the company will provide more information on the site as the case progresses.
The FTC said that, by court order, all defendants' assets have been frozen.