FTC Launches ‘Major Crackdown’ on Tech Support Scams

- May 16, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission is partnering with multiple federal, state and international partners to crack down on tech support scams. In total, the FTC and the coordinating partners in “Operation Tech Trap” have brought a total of 29 actions against tech support scam operations, including “complaints, settlements, indictments, and guilty pleas.”

Tech Support scams are a fairly old fraud technique in which fraudsters pose as tech support operators from major tech companies.

The scams are typically initiated through a pop-up warning claiming to be from Microsoft or Apple warning that the computer has been infected with malware, then instructing the user to call a support line. The fraudster will then walk the victim through a fake malware or virus scanning process and downloading a remote access tool to remove the malware.

Support scams have become a multi-million dollar industry. Wired magazine reported in March that most scams charge around $300. Journalist Andy Greenberg spoke to Nick Nikiforakis, a professor at the Stony Brook computer science department. Stony Brook had gone through a large effort to find and dial dozens of these fake support lines to analyze how they work.

The research team then built a software tool called “ROBOVIC” (robotic victim) that would automatically scan millions of websites searching for tech support scams. The bot discovered about 22,000 scams operating on more than 8,000 domains.

The FTC has successfully sued and settled with companies running these scams in the past, and announced more with their release on May 12. One operation alone has been sued for $27 million.

Nikiforakis told WIRED that it’s important that people learn to not trust what their browsers tell them. “People need to understand there’s no legitimate scenario where your computer will start beeping and ask you to call a toll-free number,” he said.