At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a federal court has shut down a company that scammed computer users by tricking them into paying hundreds of dollars for technical support services they did not need, as well as software that was otherwise available for free.
According to the FTC’s complaint and other court documents filed by the agency, Pairsys, Inc., cold-called consumers masquerading as representatives of Microsoft or Facebook, and also purchased deceptive ads online that led consumers to believe they were calling the technical support line for legitimate companies.
“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,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “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.”
Whether consumers were cold-called by the company or drawn in by deceptive ads, the FTC’s complaint notes that what followed was a deceptive and high-pressure sales pitch conducted by scammers in an overseas call center. The scammers would convince a consumer to allow them to have remote control over the individual’s computer, in order to analyze the supposed issues.
Once they had access to a consumer’s computer, the FTC alleges, the scammers would lead the consumer to believe that benign portions of the computer’s operating system were in fact signs of viruses and malware infecting the consumer’s computer. In many cases, they implied that the computer was severely compromised and had to be “repaired” immediately.
At that point, consumers were pressured into paying for bogus warranty programs and software that was freely available, usually at a cost of $149 to $249, though in some cases, the defendants charged as much as $600 for the supposed products. The FTC’s filings in the case allege that the company made nearly $2.5 million since early 2012.
The defendants have agreed to the terms of a preliminary injunction issued by the court that prohibits the defendants in the case from making misrepresentations to consumers about what company they represent or whether consumers have viruses or spyware on their computer. They are also banned from deceptive telemarketing practices, and may not sell or rent their customer lists to any third party. The injunction requires that their websites and telephone numbers must be shut down and disconnected, and their assets be frozen.
The defendants in the case, Pairsys, Inc., Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, are accused by the FTC of violating both the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule. In its complaint, the FTC asks the court to permanently shut down the company and require the defendants to return their ill-gotten gains. The FTC previously brought cases against a number of tech support scammers in 2012 and has received settlements and judgments totaling more than $5 million in those cases.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The stipulated preliminary injunction was entered by the court on Oct. 9. 2014.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.