FTC Cracks Down on Cybertech Scams

The Federal Trade Commission, along with state and international partners, unveiled a coordinated effort, Operation Tech Trap, to crack down on tech support scams that prey on legitimate fears about cybersecurity threats like viruses and bots.

The announcement included 16 new actions taken in the last few weeks and a total of 29 over the past year.

Once confined to cold-call attempts to sell unneeded services, they have morphed into online pop-up alerts that purport to have identified viruses and other threats, then extract payments for unneeded or un-provided security services. The FTC said some even include countdown clocks allegedly representing the time remaining before a hard drive is wiped.

Others display a porn-filled screen with a virus alert overlay and an advisory to call a toll-free number.

“Tech support scams prey on consumers’ legitimate concerns about malware, viruses and other cyber threats,” said Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC is proud to work with federal, state and international partners to take down these scams, and help consumers learn how they can safeguard their computers against real cybersecurity threats.”

While the alerts suggest they are from reputable companies like Apple or Microsoft, computer users who fall for the scam are hooked up with telemarketers who, according to Pahl, have taken consumers for almost $25 million in unnecessary charges.

Pahl said the problem is probably even bigger than the almost 100,000 complaints the FTC has gotten because some people don't complain. He said pop-up ad ploys have made such scams "more insidious and, sadly, more effective."

The FTC also announced settlements with tech support scam operations that had been sued for "bilking consumers out of millions of dollars."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.