Microsoft is using the law to fight back against scammers that dupe unsuspecting PC users into paying to fix nonexistent issues with their systems.
Fed up by tech support scams, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker announced that it is filing a federal lawsuit against a company that is allegedly foisting unneeded and potentially dangerous services on its customers, announced Courtney Gregoire, senior attorney at Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit, in a Dec. 8 blog post. The company in question is Los Angeles-based Omnitech Support.
"In its first big strike against technical support scamming companies, today Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit will file a civil lawsuit in federal court in the Central District of California against Omnitech Support and related entities for unfair and deceptive business practices and trademark infringement," wrote Gregoire. Microsoft is charging Omnitech, which operates as a division of Customer Focus Services, "with misusing Microsoft's name, registered trademarks and service marks in connection with the provision of phony tech support services."
Microsoft's research indicates that more than one-third of Americans fall for such scams after being contacted. In its court filing, Microsoft contends that a "primary reason that the perpetrators of technical support scams enjoy such success is that they create an impression that they represent or have an association with Microsoft, one of the world's most well-known technology companies, and the developer of the popular and widely-used software programs Windows and Office."
Tech support scams have plagued Microsoft for years.
In 2011, the company revoked Comantra's Gold Partner status after the firm allegedly cold-called PC users in Canada and the United Kingdom, among other countries, to offer its virus-removal services. Based in India, employees claimed to be Microsoft representatives.
A year later, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would take action against tech support scammers. The agency brought charges against six companies that were allegedly running "scareware" schemes that ensnared tens of thousands of victims.
Not content to collect fees, which can amount to hundreds of dollars, fraudsters today are going after their victims' personal data, according to Gregoire.
The Microsoft attorney warned that "today's scam artists have added a new twist—using a so-called 'technician' to gain access to a person's computer." Once inside, a victim's data is free game.
"These scammers claim to find non-existent computer viruses and infections then con people out of their hard-earned money for bogus tech support, in addition to stealing personal and financial information or even installing new malicious software," said Gregoire.
And the victims keep piling up. Microsoft has received more than 65,000 complaints from customers since May, Gregoire reported.
Microsoft is accusing Omnitech of using its "trademarks and service marks to enhance their credentials and confuse customers about their affiliation with Microsoft," said Gregoire. "Omnitech then used their enhanced credibility to convince consumers that their personal computers are infected with malware in order to sell them unnecessary security services to clean their computers."
The company is also accused of causing some of the very computer security problems it was supposedly solving. "In some instances, Omnitech has actually created security issues for victims by gaining access to their computers and installing malicious software, including a password grabber that could provide access to personal and financial information," said Gregoire.