Microsoft sues fake tech support service, warns of holiday scams

Microsoft filed a lawsuit on Thursday against a bogus tech support service that allegedly used the company’s name to persuade victims, many of them seniors, to pay hundreds of dollars for worthless advice or even viruses.

According to a complaint filed in Los Angeles, an outfit doing business under names like OmniTech Support and TechSupport Pro tricked people into signing up for “support” through fake web ads and using “technicians” who claimed to work for Microsoft.

The complaint describes how [company]Microsoft[/company], which says it received over 65,000 complaints about tech support scams in 2014 alone, used undercover investigators to look into online ads posted by the scammers.

The investigators report that the scam involved a “technician” asking to take over a computer, claiming to scan it and then demanding $249 to fix it. When a investigator remarked that the price seemed high, the scammer would respond with gobbledygook tech speak like:

“the issue present in your system is also very critical because of presence of polymorphic infection which has a tendency of damaging the core system files. So in case of a delay the chance of a system crash is very high.”

For some victims of the scam, the ordeal could get even worse if the “technicians” used the support session to install viruses and shake them down on further occasions.

In its lawsuit, Microsoft asks for an injunction and damages against a number of people and companies, including Marc Haberman of a marketing racket called Customer Focused Services, who appears to be the mastermind behind the scam.

In a blog post describing the lawsuit, Microsoft warns that the “holiday season is a popular time for scammers as more people engage in online activities, including shopping, donating to charity and searching for travel deals,” and that older people are especially likely to be victimized.

The extent of the problem is likewise reflected in a separate lawsuit filed last month by the Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida against a service called “PC Cleaner” that used ads to scare tens of thousands of people into believing their computer has a virus, and then selling them worthless services.

In the case of the companies that Microsoft describes, the scam may be even more persuasive since the scammers’ ads and technicians allegedly told victims they work “hand-in-hand” with Microsoft.

In its blog post, Microsoft also warns people to distrust callers claiming to be from the company, and not to provide credit card numbers or turn over their machines unless they have absolute assurances that the technician is indeed from the company.

While scams like the one Microsoft describes have been around for decades, the lawsuit and the advent of the holidays comes as a good reminder to tell any friends and family who are not so tech savvy to beware of tech support charlatans.