If you've gotten one of those highly suspicious phone calls claiming to be alerting you to problems with your Windows computer, this will be heartening news: The Federal Trade Commission says it has finally shut down the fraudsters, who the FTC says ran the scam from Albany, N.Y., but operated a call center in Kolkata, India.
The consumers I've heard from were all too wary to fall for the scam, but the calls - allegedly from Microsoft or Facebook - left some of them wondering. Those who fell for it were talked "into paying for bogus warranty programs and software that was freely available," the FTC said. Most paid $149 to $249, though some were charged as much as $600.
The FTC said the scammers had made nearly $2.5 million since early 2012. It said the defendants - Pairsys Inc. and two individuals, Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya - had agreed to terms in a preliminary injunction barring them from misrepresenting themselves or bogusly claiming that consumers' computers are infected with viruses or spyware. The terms also bar them from selling or renting their customer lists - a way that scammers sometimes profit even after their original deceit has ended. Here's what the FTC announced:
At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has shut down a company that scammed computer users by tricking them into paying hundreds of dollars for technical support services they did not need, as well as software that was otherwise available for free.
According to the FTC's complaint, Pairsys, Inc., cold-called consumers masquerading as representatives of Microsoft or Facebook, and also purchased deceptive ads online that led consumers to believe they were calling the technical support line for legitimate companies.
"The defendants behind Pairsys targeted seniors and other vulnerable populations, preying on their lack of computer knowledge to sell 'security' software and programs that had no value at all," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers' money back in their pockets."
Whether consumers were cold-called by the company or drawn in by deceptive ads, the FTC's complaint notes that what followed was a deceptive and high-pressure sales pitch conducted by scammers in an overseas call center. The scammers would convince a consumer to allow them to have remote control over the individual's computer, in order to analyze the supposed issues.
Once they had access to a consumer's computer, the FTC alleges, the scammers would lead the consumer to believe that benign portions of the computer's operating system were in fact signs of viruses and malware infecting the consumer's computer. In many cases, they implied that the computer was severely compromised and had to be "repaired" immediately.
The defendants in the case, Pairsys, Inc., Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, are accused by the FTC of violating both the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In its complaint, the FTC asks the court to permanently shut down the company and require the defendants to return their ill-gotten gains.