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FTC hits scary tech support scammers that make 'virtual mayhem'

Gregg Keizer | Oct. 4, 2012
U.S. officials today struck at six long-running scams, freezing assets of 14 companies charged with bilking consumers by posing as tech support from Microsoft, Symantec and others.

Those who balked, said the FTC, were pressured, and told "about the harm that will come to their computers if they do not allow the Defendants remote access to fix the computers," the court documents read.

Leibowitz estimated that the global victim count could be in the tens of thousands, but warned that the actual number could be "significantly higher."

That's what Microsoft said last year.

Polls conducted by the Redmond, Wash., software developer in mid-2011 showed that 15% of those surveyed in Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S., said they had received unsolicited calls from fraudsters posing as support technicians. Of the people who took such calls, 22% admitted to falling for the scam, Microsoft said.

The assets the FTC has frozen will be used to refund money to victims, whom the agency is trying to identify. So far, the FTC has seized approximately $180,000.

The FTC also said that it was working with Indian authorities.

Microsoft assisted the agency in its investigation, primarily by providing information on the scams, as did other companies. Microsoft was also a declarant in the case.

"I want to commend the FTC for its actions to fight phone scams, which are an emerging form of Internet fraud, and to protect people from these dangerous cybercriminal schemes," said Frank Torres, senior policy counsel at Microsoft, in remarks at the press conference.

Last year, Microsoft said victims, on average, suffered an $875 loss, including compromised passwords, balky computers, identity fraud and cash pilfered from their bank accounts.

Leibowitz urged consumers who received one of these calls to hang up and report the scam to his agency.


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