Microsoft has declared war on a company misusing its trademarks in a tech support scam, and it's seeking damages.
The US Federal Trade Commission has taken on numerous US tech support scams over the past years to tackle fraudsters claiming to be from Microsoft, offering to help consumers remove viruses, spyware, and system errors on their machines, but ultimately bill them for bogus fixes.
While the FTC has used consumer protection laws to prevent companies from deceptive marketing, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit's (DCU) first "big strike" on tech support scams relies on trademark infringement, loss of goodwill as well as unfair and deceptive business practices.
Microsoft filed its complaint last Friday in federal court in the Central District of California against a California based company. The complaint outlines several other defendants linked to that company including individuals and businesses that operate in India and Florida.
Microsoft accused them of violating a range of Californian laws by misusing its name in connection with the provision of "phony technical support". It's claiming to have suffered a loss of consumer goodwill towards the Microsoft brand and is seeking a permanent injunction and damages for infringement of its IP.
"Defendants have utilized the Microsoft trademarks and service marks to enhance their credentials and confuse customers about their affiliation with Microsoft. Defendants then use their enhanced credibility to convince consumers that their personal computers are infected with malware in order to sell them unnecessary technical support and security services to clean their computers," Microsoft's complaint reads.
"In some instances, Defendants actually create security issues for consumers by gaining access to their computers and stealing information stored on them," it continued.
Microsoft said its investigations revealed that the defendants using its trademarks to fraudulently bill customers for unnecessary services, and for "installing password reader programs and other malware".
To supports its claim the defendants had conducted illegal business practices, Microsoft investigators ran multiple test calls with representatives of the companies, which invariably ended up providing the representatives with "full control of the investigator's computers".
Microsoft's own experts confirmed that the PCs were clean prior to contacting the support companies. However, its investigators were told that the clean PCs had dozens of "issues of concern" caused by "polymorphic viruses".
The company also noted that it received more than 65,000 customers complaints related to tech support scams over six months in 2014, however it believes that around 3.3 million American consumers fall prey to scammers each year with losses amounting to $1.5bn a year. It claims the cost to California each year is $179m.