Apple, Windows tech support scams: US cracks down on fake security alerts

Don't call that toll-free number if you see what looks like a security alert in your browser.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The people behind bogus Windows security alerts such as this one are the target of the FTC's Operation Tech Trap.

Image: Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced a round of actions against tech-support scammers who use online ads to mimic system security alerts and con victims into buying unnecessary repairs.

The FTC on Friday revealed 16 new actions it's undertaking with US and international law-enforcement partners against major tech-support scam operations. The actions include complaints, settlements, and arrests, and bring the authority's total number of actions against tech-support scammers to 29.

Tech-support scams typically prey on consumer concerns over real malware, such as Friday's real WannaCrypt ransomware attack, by creating online ads that look like system security alerts from Apple and Microsoft.

The ads tell the user that their computer has been compromised and urge them to call a toll-free number for help. Some scam ads even borrow the ransomware technique of threatening to delete a hard drive unless the victim pays up within a set deadline.

Anyone who calls the toll-free numbers is connected with telemarketers posing as Apple or Microsoft tech support and encouraged to provide the telemarketer with remote access to run supposed diagnostic tests, which lead to the discovery of a problem that needs fixing. Victims are pressured into paying a fee of several hundred dollars for unnecessary repairs, service plans, antivirus, and other products and services.

The FTC announced four new complaints on Friday, in three of which it has obtained temporary restraining orders to stop the scam, freeze assets and take control of the businesses. The complaints were filed jointly with the states of Ohio, Alabama, Florida, and Colorado.

The new complaints are part of the FTC's Operation Tech Trap, which so far includes recent settlements with two "massive" tech-support operations in the US that have agreed to turn over assets.

The commission notes that it has also been working with authorities in India to crack down on tech-support scams operating there.

Despite the new complaints, tech-support scams are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. The FTC has been cracking down on the scams for several years and, with the rise of ransomware and Friday's outbreak, the lies told by scammers are likely to continue to trick victims.

Read more on ransomware and fake tech support

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