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Microsoft, Facebook Support Services A Scam, FTC Says

FTC shutters company that allegedly duped consumers out of $2.5 million by falsely detecting computer viruses and selling bogus software.
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A federal court has shut down a company that posed as representatives of Facebook and Microsoft to dupe people into paying hundreds of dollars for bogus technical support services, the Federal Trade Commission announced.

Pairsys, a New-York-based company, reportedly built a business on cold-calling consumers since at least February 2012, pretending to represent companies such as Facebook and Microsoft, the FTC's complaint said. Representatives would trick users into believing that their computers were infected with viruses or malware, or were corrupt, in order to install remote access software, according to the document.

Once a victim allowed a representative to access his or her computer remotely, the representative would run a scan that detected errors and vulnerabilities, regardless of whether or not they existed, the FTC said.  

[Snapchat settles with the FTC. Read 5 Ways Snapchat Violated Your Privacy, Security.]

"For example, sometimes Defendants bring consumers' attention to a discovered 'error' with rundll32.exe and consumers' network firewalls," the FTC explained. "Defendants show customers a popup that they claim indicates that consumers' network firewalls have crashed."

The representative would then try to sell people long-term security or technical support services, perform "repairs" for between $149 and $249, and would charge some people as much as $600 for the bogus products, the FTC said. The FTC's filings allege that the company made nearly $2.5 million since early 2012.

"The defendants behind Pairsys 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," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers' money back in their pockets."

If Pairsys is found guilty, the FTC wants the company shut down permanently, and for it to refund the people who paid for the service, it said. Facebook reportedly tipped off the FTC to Pairsys's scam.

Tech support scams aren't uncommon. In 2012, the FTC launched a crackdown on telemarketers who masqueraded as major computer companies such as Dell, Microsoft, McAfee, and Norton, in order to "fix" consumers' computers that they said were infected.

"The FTC has been aggressive -- and successful -- in its pursuit of tech support scams," said FTC chairman John Leibowitz at the time. "And the tech support scam artists we are talking about today have taken scareware to a whole other level of virtual mayhem."

The FTC found that the operations were mostly based in India and targeted English-speaking consumers in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK. Victims were charged fees ranging from $49 to $450, the FTC said.

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