Questions were asked last week when two fake tech support companies were shut down. The “crack and shut” operation raised eyebrows, particularly because the U.S handled the scammers rather flippantly compared to what the U.K would do.
On 29th January, the United States Federal Trade Commission listed six names of people in Ohio State who purportedly sneaked pop-up adverts on different sites. These adverts appeared to come from the user’s computer operating system—just like a ‘virus infection’ warning would— and instructed the user to make a toll-free call for help.
But that’s as good as free goes. The FTC asserted that; once you dialed in, they talked you into allowing their “experts” (who claimed to be legally approved) remote access to your system. If you fell for their stories, the technician would secretly run msconfig, and later claim that your system breakdown resulted from of a malware.
All victims who bought the “malware” lie were instructed to either pay for a one-time fix or sign a long-term contract with fees as high as $500, sources claim. If you turned them down, their “technician” would lock down your system using the syskey app to further convince you that your computer is infected, said the FTC.
FTC filed charges in 2017 after investigating the six, and a group of small tech support businesses linked to the scam. However, contrary to the expectations of many, the case was last week settled outside court. As a consequence; the companies agreed to give up the tech support business and pay a total fine of $24.8m to the FTC.
The defendants case were companies like Datadeck LLC; Pro PC Repair LLC; Repair All PC LLC; I Fix PC LLC; Online Assist LLC; and I Fix PC dbaTechers247; WebTech World LLC.
Individual defendants included: Jessica Marie Serrano; Roopkala Chadha, Dishant Khanna; Mohit Malik; Romil Bhatia; and Lalit Chadha.
While to some this settlement may seem like justice—because this was a scam that affected not only Ohio but the whole nation— the truth is we are still far from it. Digging deeper, we realize that FTC suspended all charges if the if the tricksters paid just $149,337.38, and scammers only risk paying a little but more if they are caught pulling the same tricks again.
Comparison to the UK situation
Meanwhile, in the UK, a suspect—Narendra Harilal Vadgama—with similar charges was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. However, 3 months were taken off his jail term, but he was later set free in exchange for pleading guilty—which means he only goes to jail if caught with the same or related crimes. On top, the court ordered Vadgama to wear an electronic tag, and stay on a 6-month 8pm-8am curfew. Plus, he was banned from holding the position of a company director for the next 7 years.
The bottom line
FTC needs to come up with stricter tech support merchant account holder and industry operational rules if they are serious about fighting this kind of scam.
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