Scam busted for selling fake tech support

A federal judge has shut down a scam in which an outfit faked being technical support for such companies as Microsoft (MSFT) and Facebook (FB). The action came as a result of a Federal Trade Commission investigation, the agency said on Friday.

The idea behind the nationwide scam, the FTC said, was to confuse computer users and make them believe they needed to pay for technical support and software they did not need or was available for free. Victims, often seniors, were charged hundreds of dollars.

Victims either received cold calls from an overseas call center with the phony tech support pitch or responded to ads that similarly pretended to be tech support for major companies.

Such scams are very common and have regularly prompted warnings from government agencies and consumer groups in recent years.

In this case, once the alleged scammer, Pairsys Inc., would get a bite from a consumer, a representative would request remote access to the victim's computer, the FTC said. Once the rep had access, the FTC said he would identify items on the computer he claimed indicated the machine had been infected with viruses or malware. But in reality, nothing at all was wrong.

That would lead to a high-pressure sales pitch for software and warranties that sold for $149 to $249, although some victims were charged up to $600, the FTC said.

Profits from the scam totaled $2.5 million since 2012, the investigation found.

"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," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "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."

The FTC is seeking to have Pairsys shut down permanently and recover money to compensate the victims.

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    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.