US trade watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has started a major international crackdown on tech support scammers that try to con internet users to believe that their computers have been affected by viruses and then charge hundreds of dollars to fix the problems.
According to the watchdog, about tens of thousands of consumers have been tricked into paying for removal of fake viruses and non-existent spyware, and enabling scammers to remotely access their computers.
The FTC's move follows a US District Court Judge's order halting six alleged tech support scams and freezing their assets.
Recently, the FTC targeted 14 firms and 17 individual defendants that include Pecon Software, Finmaestros, Zeal IT Solutions, VirtualPC Solutions, Lakshmi Infosoul Services and PCCare247, in addition to individual defendants in each of the cases.
FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said the FTC has been aggressive - and successful - in its pursuit of tech support scams.
"And the tech support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem," Leibowitz said.
According to the FTC, scammers would contact victims through telemarketing calls, claiming that they were linked with genuine firms including Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton and alert the user that their computer is infected.
FTC also alleged that the scammers have charged between $49 and $450 to rid the computer of malware, forcing customers to purchase a long-term security contract, buy security software or pay for phony 'repairs' that amounted to deleting a few innocuous files.
The commission has also shut down 80 Internet domain names and 130 phone numbers in the US that were used to avoid detection by consumers.
FTC's efforts were also supported by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and the United Kingdom's Serious Organised Crime Agency, in addition to investigative assistance from Microsoft.