The Better Business Bureau says a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) victory is a win for consumers, in the ongoing crackdown against high tech crimes.
Acting on FTC charges, a U.S. District Court has ordered operators of international technical support scams to pay more than $1.5 million in fines for allegedly tricking consumers into believing their computers were infected with malware, and charging a fee to supposedly "fix" the non-existent problems.
Fourteen defendants based mostly in India are named in the action, and according to the FTC, targeted English-speaking consumers in the United States and other countries.
Consumer complaints filed with the government accuse the defendants of having claimed affiliation with several companies, including Microsoft, Dell, McAfee and Norton, and telling them that malware on their computers posed an imminent threat to their computers.
The FTC says it has received more than 40,000 complaints since it instituted a crackdown on the practice in the fall of 2012. Despite the announcement of the fines against the fourteen defendants, unfortunately, the scam continues.
Under the tech support scam, in most cases, consumers report they were contacted by telephone and told that their computer "problems" could be fixed for a fee that typically ranged from $100 to $400. Victims say they were directed to a website to download software that gave the scammers remote control access to their computers.
In some cases, the criminals installed harmless software, but others downloaded tracking programs that provided them access to personal information stored on consumers' computers.
BBB says consumers should familiarize themselves with the way the scam works, and take precautions to prevent falling victim to it:
"Tech support" callers may not be who they claim to be - Computer companies and other legitimate businesses will never make an unsolicited call claiming that there is a problem with your computer that needs fixing. They would have no way of knowing that.
Maintain control - If you are experiencing computer problems, look for a reputable repair company to fix it at bbb.org. Remember that any time you hand over remote control to someone else, they can access any and all parts of your operating system and personal files.
Use safe payment methods - When buying goods and services online steer clear of businesses and individuals who only accept payment by wire transfer or cashier's check. Instead, use a secure form of payment such as a credit card or trusted online payment system.
Spread the word - Let friends and family know about the tech scam, and encourage them to hang up on unsolicited calls that supposedly come from well-known computer companies. In the event they have a question, they should contact the manufacturer's customer or technical support number.