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FTC announces crack down on tech support scams

May 23, 2017 Washington — The Federal Trade Commission, along with federal, state and international law enforcement partners, May 12 announced, "Operation Tech Trap," a new initiative to crack down on technology support scams.

According to the FTC, these types of scams "trick consumers into believing their computers are infected with viruses and malware, and then charge them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs," the agency said in a news release.

FTC also announced 16 new law enforcement actions — including complaints, settlements, indictments and guilty pleas — to stop deceptive tech support operations.

"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."

One example of a tech support scam the FTC gave involves scammers using consumers' computers to "display advertisements designed to resemble pop-up security alerts from Microsoft, Apple or other technology companies."

The ads "warned consumers that their computers are infected with viruses, are being hacked, or are otherwise compromised. The pop-up messages urged consumers to immediately call a toll-free number for assistance. Some of the pop-up ads even included a countdown clock, allegedly representing the time remaining before the computer hard drive would be deleted.

"Once consumers called the toll-free number, they were connected to a call center and pitched by telemarketers who claimed to be affiliated with well-known technology companies such as Microsoft or Apple. Consumers were told that in order to diagnose the problem, they must provide the telemarketers with remote access to their computer. After gaining access, the telemarketers purported to run a series of "diagnostic tests" that inevitably revealed the existence of grave problems requiring immediate repair by one of their 'certified technicians.' Through these high-pressure tactics, the defendants would persuade consumers to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary computer repair services, service plans, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services."

The ADA Center for Professional Success offers resources for dentists on ways to steer clear of scams. Visit the Center's web site, Success.ADA.org and search for "scams" in the search engine to find information on telemarketing scams, sales scams and safeguarding offices from hackers.