updated 10/4/2012 2:20:27 PM ET 2012-10-04T18:20:27

The Federal Trade Commission has won a judgment against a software company that used scareware to market phony security software. At the same time, the commission also began an international campaign to curb scams designed to sell fake or free anti-virus software over the phone.

The FTC is embarking on an international effort with other law-enforcement agencies to stop telephone-based tech-support scams targeting English speakers in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The scams use phone operators based in India to pose as technical-support engineers in order to trick customers into paying for a bogus computer-malware removal service.

The phony specialists pretend to be from security and computer industry leaders such as Dell, Microsoft, McAfee and Norton, and cold-call victims to misinterpret a cache of standard error message. The "technicians" then charge victims $49 to $450 to fix and remove the nonexistent problems and viruses,  an FTC statement and complaint said.

To add insult to injury, once the techs persuade users to grant them remote access to the victims' systems, they then install trial versions of anti-virus software readily available online for free. Sometimes they install scareware and malware to extend the life of their scam or steal personal information, Computerworld reported.

"The is the latest variation of scareware," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said, somewhat inaccurately, at a press conference on Wednesday (Oct. 3).

Scareware and tech support scams both attempt to persuade users to buy bunk security products by feigning reports of an unhealthy computer, but scareware refers only to malware that feigns a computer's illness.

Liebowitz's agency has received about 2,400 complaints related to the tech-support scam. 

"The tech-support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem," Leibowitz added in the statement.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority said it has received 10,000 complaints. Liebowitz said the actual number of victims is probably "significantly higher."

U.S. authorities have shut down phone numbers used to place the malicious calls in the U.S and frozen  at least $180,000 in assets belonging to 14 companies, which will be used to compensate victims, Computerworld reported.

According to a Microsoft poll last year, scammers who use this method have a 22 percent success rate.

American consumers who receive one of these calls are encouraged to hang up and report the incident to the FTC.

A federal court fined Kristy Ross and six others $163 million Tuesday (Oct. 2) for infecting victims' computers with true scareware, bogus pop-ups meant to fool users into believing their machines were infected with malware so they would purchase equally bogus security software.

Ross allegedly duped over 1 million people, who paid $40 to $60 to fix problems they did not have.

The scam was propagated through ads on commercial websites and pop-ups that pretended to scan systems and find malicious code.

Follow Ben on Twitter@benkwx.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily


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