Despite aggressive law enforcement and Federal Trade Commission actions to battle it, the scourge known as the “Tech Support Scam” is growing – with older individuals a rising target.
The tech support scam basically involves tricking people into believing their computer has problems, and then charging them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary, worthless, and in some cases destructive applications such as malware, spyware, adware, keystroke loggers, and other harmful applications.
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These imposter scams appear to disproportionately affect seniors – of the more than 18,000 tech support complainants to the FTC who reported their age during the first eight months of 2015, 76% were at least 50 years old, and 56% were more than 60 years old, said Lois Greisman, Associate Director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging this week.
Over the past year, the Committee said its own Fraud Hotline has received more than 70 complaints about the tech support scam, with the majority of calls occurring within the past three months.
Microsoft, which also testified at the hearing and is often used as a key part of the scammers’ invective says that an estimated 3.3 million people a year are hit with the scam at an annual cost of $1.5 billion. This translates to a victim nearly every 10 seconds, with an average loss of $454 per consumer.
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“Since May 2014, Microsoft alone has received over 180,000 tech support customer complaints. But we know these complaints are merely the tip of the iceberg. Customers of other software companies are also being victimized, and many victims are never even aware that they have been scammed. Fraudsters are stealing billions of dollars from consumers in what we believe to be the single most pervasive and fastest growing consumer fraud in the United States,” said David Finn Executive Director of Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit.
For its part the FTC, in some cases with Microsoft’s help, has taken out some of these scammers. The FTC’s Greisman said that in 2014 it the filed three cases against tech support scam.
“The FTC alleges that these scams have harmed thousands of consumers in the United States, resulting in more than $100 million dollars in injury. Defendants in one of these cases, based in New York involving call centers in India, recently agreed to relinquish most of their assets. The owners are also prohibited from engaging in deceptive telemarketing practices and their websites have been shut down.
Two recently filed cases remain in litigation. In those cases, the FTC said it is seeking injunctive relief to stop the alleged deceptive practices and
provide redress for consumers. In each of those cases, the call center is in Florida. The agency continues to actively seek law enforcement targets and has additional investigations underway,” Greisman said.
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