FTC Scams 'Windows Tech Support' Scammers

As Windows tech support scams became increasingly common, investigators at the Federal Trade Commission began setting traps that eventually led to legal action.

by / December 7, 2012

Between November 2010 and August 2012, the Federal Trade Commission was flooded with consumer complaints and reports of a scam related to their PCs.

The victims said that people claiming to be from Windows Tech Support were cold-calling them, informing them that their Windows installation had problems and they need only purchase $99 software to fix said problems. The victim hands over his credit card information for this purchase, but later sees a $495 wire transfer. In some instances, the scammer convinces his mark to grant remote access to the computer, as the scammer installs malware and attempts to gain more personal information.

As Ars Technica reports, officials at the Federal Trade Commission are fighting the scammers by calling them directly and pretending to want assistance.

Eager to take advantage of another mark, scammers frequently accepted the fact that they were being called directly, and investigators were able to trace some of the scammers' information and ultimately initiate legal action.

And after finding a scammer's phone number on a consumer reports website, investigators were able to not only call the scammers, but also link phone numbers with websites used by the scammers and begin building cases. 

With URLs in hand, investigators made requests to Google to share email accounts based on the scammer's domain name's WHOIS data. The combination of phone numbers, websites and email addresses allowed the FTC to identify a company called Zeal IT Solutions as the main source behind the scams, with other companies, such as Virtual PC Solutions, performing similar scams.

On the whole, the FTC identified 80 domain names and 130 phone numbers of scammers that would be used to initiate legal action against 14 corporations and 17 people. In the case of Zeal IT Solutions, the scammers were summoned to court, issued injunctions for closure of business and ordered to disclose financial records -- but no one from Zeal IT Solutions responded.

In other cases, progress is further along. In a case against Virtual PC Solutions, defendant Mikael Marczak provided financial documents to the FTC and is reportedly cooperating.

There is a lot of money to be made by a Windows tech support scam, and because a scammer needs little more than a telephone and computer to succeed, such scams continue to be common, despite the FTC's continued efforts.

Read the in-depth story about how the FTC scammed the scammers at Ars Technica.

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