FTC charges tech support companies with using deceptive pop-up ads to scare consumers into purchasing unneeded services

The Federal Trade Commission announced that is charged the operators of a multi-national tech support company with using deceptive pop-up internet ads to scare thousands of consumers into paying hundreds of dollars each for unnecessary technical support services. It obtained a court order temporarily stopping the defendants’ practices and freezing their assets. The defendants commonly operated under the name Global Access Technical Support.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants used affiliate marketers to place internet pop-up ads designed to deceive consumers into thinking the ads originated from legitimate technology companies like Apple or Microsoft to warn the consumer that their computer was infected with viruses or malware. The ads often included loud alarms or recorded messages warning of the apparent dire threat to consumers’ computers and “hijacked” consumers’ browsers, leaving consumers unable to navigate around the ads or close them. The ads prompted consumers to contact a toll-free number.

According to the complaint, once consumers called the toll-free number, they were connected to a call center in India and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with or certified by a major technology company. Consumers were told that in order to diagnose the problem, they must provide the telemarketer remote access to their computer. The telemarketers then showed consumers otherwise innocuous screens and directories on their computers, deceiving them into believing they were evidence of problems that require technical support services to repair.

The complaint alleges that the telemarketers pressured consumers to spend anywhere from $200 to $400 for repair services that were at best useless and in some cases could harm consumers’ computers.

The full FTC press release is here.

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