Microsoft on Thursday sued two technical support companies, alleging that they infringed numerous Microsoft trademarks and practiced false advertising as they tricked consumers into paying for bogus help.
The lawsuit was the first time Microsoft turned to the courts to try to stem the flood of tech support scams that swamp Windows users.
"Defendants have utilized the Microsoft trademarks and service marks to enhance their credentials and confuse customers about their affiliation with Microsoft," the complaint stated. "Defendants then use their enhanced credibility to convince consumers that their personal computers are infected with malware in order to sell them unnecessary technical support and security services to clean their computers."
The lawsuit accused Customer Focus Services, a California company, and its subsidiaries with trademark infringement, and alleged that a web of its sites — including omnitechsupport.com, fixnow.us and techsupportpro.com — shilled phony Windows support. Microsoft also named Anytime Techies, a Florida firm, and its vtechsupports.com, mytechsupports.com, anytimetechies.com and windowssetgetsolution.org websites.
Microsoft's description of phony support practices was similar to scores of accounts received by Computerworld from both scammed victims and people who didn't bite on the help offer.
Scams are based on a combination of pushy sales tactics, a load of lies and a few half-truths. Callers pose as computer support technicians, frequently from Microsoft itself, and try to convince victims that their computer is infected, often by having them look at a Windows log that shows scores of harmless errors. At that point, the sale pitch starts, with the caller trying to convince the consumer to download software or let the "technician" remotely access the PC.
The con artists charge for their "help" and often get people to pay for worthless software. Frequently, the software is not only useless, but also includes malware that steals online account information and passwords.
In Microsoft's own probe, it had investigators call the phone numbers listed on websites. But the results were the same as when people answered their telephones and heard a fast-talking fake support representative yammering about PC doom and gloom.
"The technician claimed to have found 75 issues of concern, which the technician claimed were caused by 'polymorphic viruses.' The alleged issues involved benign junk files and folders, none of which contained viruses or malware," Microsoft recounted of one such call. To "clean" the computer, the investigator paid $250, then another $610 to "fine tune" the PC.
During several test calls, the technicians claimed that they were "from Microsoft."
"Microsoft investigators have witnessed the defendants use these practices, including defendants' fraudulent sale of unnecessary technical support, installation of malware on the investigators' clean personal computer, and an attempt to steal an investigator's passwords," Microsoft's complaint read.
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