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With payroll in arrears, online antivirus seller shuts doors

With payroll in arrears, online antivirus seller shuts doors

EZ Tech Support of Portland, Oregon, sold high-priced antivirus software and one-time computer fixes

EZ Tech Support's offices were in this building in Portland, Oregon.

EZ Tech Support's offices were in this building in Portland, Oregon.

The sudden shutdown of a computer tech support call centre has left some of its employees wondering if they will be paid.

EZ Tech Support, based in Portland, Oregon, took calls from people who had advertising software installed on their computers that warned of possible security and performance problems. The programs implored people to call the company's number, which was displayed amid warnings.

The company stopped taking calls earlier this week, according to two former EZ Tech Support employees. Contacted by email, its general manager, Gavynn Wells, said he was no longer worked there and was "unclear as to the direction the company will be going into."

"As for me, I'm going to be enjoying the summer and figure out my next career move come fall," he wrote.

The company is two pay periods behind in payroll, said one of the former employees, who requested anonymity. Some employees have been paid, but others have been told the company's funds had been frozen, the former employee said.

Both former employees said they were planning legal action.

Wells maintained that "all employees will be paid." One of EZ Tech Support's merchants is holding funds owed to the company for 90 days, he wrote.

"Everything is being done to get all obligations paid and settled as soon as possible," Wells wrote.

He has said he doesn't own the company and that it is owned by an investment company. His name, however, appears on its business registration with Oregon's Secretary of State office.

EZ Tech Support routinely took in $25,000 to $30,000 every two weeks in revenue. One former employee said call center agents were pushed to generate $750 in sales a day.

EZ Tech Support's shutdown came shortly before the IDG News Service published a story on its operations earlier this week.

The company started business last October in an older building in northeast Portland. It sold a perpetual license for a security program called Defender Pro Antirvirus for $300 and one-time fix service starting at $250.

Customers ended up calling the company after seeing its number in adware programs, which typically bait people by offering a free utility such as a media player but primarily push other paid-for software. Security experts have long warned of adware-based scams.

With callers' permission, EZ Tech Support agents installed a remote access program on their computers. Agents then installed a free application called Webroot Analyzer, a legitimate application that flags possible problems on a computer.

The items highlighted by Webroot's Analyzer -- even if the issues had no material effect on a computer -- were used to convince people they needed to buy Defender Pro.

A copy of the script followed by EZ Tech Support's agents shows how callers were misled. If customers said they were running an antivirus program, agents were instructed to say the program wasn't bad but imply that it was insufficient protection.

"It's much better than not having anything at all, but in this day and age you need to have Real-Time Full-Spectrum Protection and make sure you are protected against both viruses AND malware," the script reads.

A distinction between viruses and malware is nonexistent in modern security programs, which detect all kinds of harmful programs. Many who called EZ Tech Support, however, were older people with little knowledge about computers, former employees said.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed two lawsuits in November against an assortment of mostly Florida-based companies that allegedly conned consumers out of $120 million using deceptive sales tactics to sell ineffective software and unneeded support services.

Some of those companies had business models similar to that of EZ Tech Support. According to his LinkedIn profile, Wells used to work for Inbound Call Experts, a company named in one of the FTC's lawsuits.

One of the former employees said he felt bad about the job once he realized the scope of EZ Tech Support's operations. After working there for about a month, he started noticing that the business was "fishy."

Eventually, his sales figures sagged as he came to grips with the full scope of what was going on. "I was not enthusiastic to go in [to work], but I needed the money," he said.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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