The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in conjunction with other federal, state and international law enforcement partners, recently announced a nationwide and international crackdown on tech support scams called “Operation Tech Trap.”
In a nutshell, fraudsters trick unsuspecting consumers and organizations into believing their computers are infected with non-existent malware or viruses, charging them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs.
The scammers targeted in Operation Tech Trap caused consumers’ computers to display an ad designed to resemble pop-up security alerts from Microsoft, Apple or other technology companies, said the FTC. The fraudulent ads warned consumers that their computers were infected with viruses, were being hacked, or were otherwise compromised — urging them to contact a toll-free number for assistance.
“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.”
Consumers and organizations who fell for the scam and called the number were connected to telemarketers — claiming to be affiliated with Microsoft, Apple or other high-profile tech companies — who then told consumers they required remote access to their computers to run diagnostic tests.
The fraudsters then reported back critical, but non-existent, tech problems and required customers to pay hundreds of dollars for bogus repair services or anti-virus software.
The remote access element here is especially worrisome when it comes to managing the third-party risk of large organizations — adding an additional level of vigilance required on the part of large enterprises to manage not just their own cybersecurity, but also the best practices at interconnected or affiliated or partner organizations.
The FTC and its partners recently announced 16 new actions against these fraudulent tech support operations, including complaints, settlements, indictments and guilty pleas. To date, the FTC reports that Operation Tech Trap has now brought 29 law enforcement actions to stop these tech support scams in 2017.