Consumers Duped by Computer Virus Scam Targeted by U.S. Agency

U.S. government regulators announced they won a court order to halt international telephone scams in which people posing as computer technicians called tens of thousands of consumers and duped them into buying unneeded anti- virus services.

The Federal Trade Commission said today it filed charges on Sept. 24 in the Southern District of New York. A federal judge the next day ordered a stop to the scams, mostly based in India, which targeted consumers in the U.S., U.K., and other English- speaking countries, according to the agency. The U.S. also froze $180,000 of the defendants’ assets, the FTC said.

The agency said it is working with international regulators to increase its investigations of so-called scareware, in which con artists fool consumers into buying software and services for their computers they don’t need. The agency yesterday announced a judgment of more than $163 million against a defendant in a 2008 case.

The most recent cases, which were unsealed last night, are “a very serious rip-off of consumers,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told reporters in Washington today. “The tech scam artists have taken scareware to a new level of virtual mayhem.”

The FTC targeted 14 companies and 17 individuals. Companies involved included Pecon Software Ltd., Finmaestros LLC, Zeal IT Solutions Pvt., Virtual PC Solutions, Lakshmi Infosul Services Pvt. and PCCare247 Inc., the agency said.

The telemarketers told consumers they were from Dell Inc. (DELL), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp. (SYMC)’s Norton antivirus unit and had detected malware that threatened their computers, the FTC said in a statement. To show the computer had a problem, the caller directed the consumers to a utility area of the computer that falsely showed an infection, according to the agency.

The callers offered to rid computers of the non-existent threats for fees ranging from $49 to $450. A separate scam placed ads with Google Inc. (GOOG) that appeared when computer users searched for a technical-support number, the FTC said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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