The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking tougher steps to try and stop fraudulent tech support schemes, which are scamming consumers out of millions of dollars.
The agency has launched a new effort, dubbed Operation Tech Trap, to end online scams where customers are tricked into believing their computers are infected with a virus and that they must pay a third party to solve the issue.
The fraud involves scammers running deceptive pop-up ads that look like security alerts from Apple or Microsoft. The alerts falsely warn users that their computers are infected with a virus and that if they close the warning, the contents of their hard drive will be deleted. The ads provide a phone number to call, which promises to fix the nonexistent virus.
Individuals who call the number are greeted by an operator on the other end of the line, posing as a Microsoft or Apple employee, claiming that they need remote access to the user’s computer so that they can fix the problem, for a fee.
"Tech support scams prey on consumers' legitimate concerns about malware, viruses and other cyber threats," said Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection in a release.
According to the FTC, “companies use high-pressure tactics to strong-arm consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services.”
The FTC is working with state and governments that are pursuing criminal and civil charges against those suspected of carrying out these frauds.
The agency has already shut down an alleged operation running out of Boynton Beach, Fla. The defendants have been ordered to turn over $700,000 in assets.
"Tech support scams prey on people's fear of losing important work, family photos or sensitive identification information," said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) in a statement. "Using that fear scammers trick thousands of consumers into paying millions of dollars to fix problems that never existed."