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Court shuts down alleged PC tech support scam

Court shuts down alleged PC tech support scam

The New York company charged consumers up to $249 to fix nonexistent PC problems, the FTC says

A court has shut down a New York tech support vendor after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission accused the company of scamming computer users into paying hundreds of dollars for services they did not need.

The FTC's complaint against Pairsys, based in Albany, New York, also alleged that the company charged customers for software that was otherwise available for free.

Pairsys cold-called computer users in the U.S. and other countries, claiming to be representatives of Microsoft or Facebook, and convinced them to allow the company's workers to gain remote control over the customers' PCs as a way to diagnose computer problems, the FTC said.

Pairsys charged computer owners US$149 to $249 to fix nonexistent problems on their PCs, the FTC alleged.

The company also purchased deceptive online ads that led computer owners to believe they were calling technical support lines for legitimate companies, the FTC said in its complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in September.

Pairsys did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the FTC complaint.

Pairsys and its operators "targeted seniors and other vulnerable populations, preying on their lack of computer knowledge to sell 'security' software and programs that had no value at all," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "We look forward to getting consumers' money back in their pockets."

On Friday, the FTC announced that the court has issued a preliminary injunction against the company. The company and its officers have agreed to the injunction, which bars them from making misrepresentations to consumers about what companies they represent or whether consumers have viruses or spyware on their computer. The order also bans them from deceptive telemarketing practices, and from selling or renting their customer lists to any third party.

The injunction requires that their websites and telephone numbers must be shut down and disconnected, and their assets frozen.

After Pairsys contacted computer users through telemarketing calls or online ads, those consumers were subjected to what the FTC called a "deceptive and high-pressure sales pitch" from an overseas call center.

Once the Pairsys representatives had remote access to a computer, they would tell the consumer that benign portions of the computer's OS were signs of viruses and malware, the FTC alleged. In many cases, Pairsys implied that the computer was severely compromised and had to be repaired immediately.

In its complaint, the FTC asks the court to permanently shut down the company and require the defendants to return their profits. The FTC previously brought cases against several tech support scammers in 2012 and has received settlements and judgments totaling more than $5 million, the agency said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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