Microsoft has had enough. Last week, Microsoft filed a lawsuit against Omnitech Support — a division of Customer Focus Services — cracking down on tech support scams. The suit accuses Omnitech of unfair and deceptive business practices and trademark infringement.
It's about time. Microsoft claims it has received more than 65,000 customer complaints related to fraudulent tech support scams just since May of this year.
"Omnitech utilized the Microsoft trademarks and service marks to enhance their credentials and confuse customers about their affiliation with Microsoft," declared Microsoft in a blog post announcing the lawsuit. "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."
As if that's not bad enough, Omnitech actually introduced security issues that weren't previously there in some instances. After granting Omnitech access to their PCs for the fraudulent tech support, some victims had malicious software installed, such as password stealing utilities that can compromise the user's personal and financial information.
How does a tech support scam work? It's sort of an old-school version of a fake antivirus scam. Instead of a strange pop-up message alerting you about a malware infection you don't really have, a "support technician" calls you on the phone. The scammers are generally intimidating and use scare tactics like telling victims that if they do not pay for support and deal with these non-existent issues immediately, they will lose data, attackers will get their personal and financial information, or their PC will crash completely.
If someone called you out of the blue, claiming to be a doctor, and started asking you medical questions, would you answer him? If he then told you that you had some illness you didn't know you have — even though you have no symptoms and feel fine — would you pay him money to "cure" you?
Of course not. So, why would you do that with your PC? Instead of falling for the pressure tactics and assuming that the person on the phone must know more about PCs than you do, you should question how he got your number and why he's calling you out of the blue to solicit tech support services when your PC has no symptoms and appears to be running fine.
Microsoft has some advice to help customers avoid becoming a victim of a fraudulent tech support service:
- Do not purchase any software or services
- Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service" — if there is, hang up
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it's a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer
- Take the caller's information down and immediately report it to your local authorities
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support
If you, or someone you know has been a victim of a tech support scam, you can report the event to Microsoft online at this site: support.microsoft.com/reportascam — and tell us about your experience in the discussion thread below.
Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.