The Federal Trade Commission announced on Wednesday that it has uncovered an international scam that allegedly duped consumers into believing their computers had been infected with viruses and malware in order to charge them for fixing the problems.
The FTC said it obtained court orders to halt six conspiracies that the commission said cost consumers in the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the U.K. tens of millions of dollars.
The FTC said the scammers, mostly based in India, attracted potential victims by placing ads on Google that appeared when consumers searched for computer tech support numbers. When consumers called the listed numbers, they were connected with someone who claimed to be affiliated with legitimate companies such as Dell, McAfee, Microsoft, or Norton. These alleged scammers claimed the caller's computer was infected with a virus or malware and offered to fix the problem for a cost of $49 to $450.
"The tech support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.
The FTC alleged that 14 corporations and 17 individuals were involved in the scam, which it said violated the FTC Act's prohibition against unfair and deceptive commercial practices, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Do Not Call Registry. The agency is seeking to permanently halt the alleged scams and to require those involved to pay restitution to affected consumers.
The FTC said it worked with authorities in Australia, Britain, and Canada to help uncover the alleged scam.