Boca case leads to $10 million in FTC refunds. Are you due a check?

Federal officials said this week they are ready to mail more than 36,000 checks totaling more than $10 million in a case involving a Boca Raton tech support company.

The money comes from a settlement with Inbound Call Experts LLC, doing business as Advanced Tech Support, and other defendants. The Federal Trade Commission called it a scam that used high-pressure sales tactics  to market products and services by falsely claiming to find viruses and malware on consumers’ computers.

Average refund: $277.44.  Deposit or cash the check within 60 days, officials advised. Also: Never pay money or provide account information to receive a refund check.  Questions? Call the FTC’s refund line at (877) 793-0908.

Other defendants in the case, which goes back several years, include PC Vitalware LLC, Super PC Support LLC, Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman and Justin M. Wright. Defendants neither admitted nor denied allegations in agreeing to the settlement, according to a court order.

Inbound Call Experts appears to be still in operation, or at least maintaining a phone line under that company name. A call this week was not immediately returned.

 

Boca man’s sweepstakes prize: 6.5 years in prison

More than 100,000 people across the United States and other countries were ripped off by a sweepstakes mail fraud scheme that is sending four men to prison, including one from Palm Beach County, prosecutors said.

The total haul rivaled a small lottery jackpot: More than $25 million.

The men falsely notified people by mail that they had won a substantial prize, federal officials said. Letters claimed recipients just needed to pay a fee ranging from $20 to $50 to redeem their winnings.

But the defendants pocketed the money sent to fictitious companies, according to Benjamin G. Greenberg, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and partners including the Federal Trade Commission.

Marcus Pradel, 41, of Boca Raton received a sentence of 78 months for his role Tuesday, officials said.

Sentenced to 84 months each were Matthew Pisoni, 44, of Fort Lauderdale and Victor Ramirez, 38, of Aventura.  John Leon, 50, of Fort Lauderdale received 24 months. Attempts to seek comment through attorneys were not immediately successful.

The case serves as a reminder of a big red flag that should make consumers realize something’s not quite right when amazing news of cash winnings comes their way.

Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay to receive a prize, the FTC advises.

Con artists can use legitimate-sounding or familiar corporate names and come up with all kinds of excuses that may have a ring of plausibility: It’s for taxes, or to insure delivery.

But when it comes to prize scams, the agency says, never pay to get paid.

FTC: Yes, our emails are real on $10M refunds for Boca tech scheme

A shadowy “tech support” industry based in Palm Beach County has given fits to consumers and regulators alike, with one Lake Worth man accused this year of faking Federal Trade Commission news releases in pursuing victims of past schemes.

That provides a colorful if slightly awkward backdrop to the FTC’s announcement this week it is sending emails to notify eligible consumers they are eligible for a share of $10 million in refunds after a significant settlement.  The refunds come from an agreement with Boca Raton-based Advanced Tech Support, which also used the name Inbound Call Experts.

That’s not the full amount consumers paid but what state and federal officials were able to seize for refunds, so a release describes the refunds as “partial.”

The FTC alleges that for years, a spate of such schemes have scared people into buying worthless software and support, sometimes for hundreds of dollars apiece, to “fix” non-existent computer viruses and malware. Palm Beach County has been home to several companies that employ various forms of advertising, computer pop-ups and telemarketing, often aimed at seniors.

There are even alleged follow-up scams, reaching out to victims and seeking fees to get refunds. One Lake Worth man, Daniel L. Croft, was ordered by a court in April to stop posing as someone affiliated with the FTC.

One tip to tell if the email is real: The FTC email will not ask you for any fees to claim a refund.

The FTC says its emails about refunds in this case will come from: subscribe@subscribe.ftc.gov

The email will have a claim number and a PIN that will give you access to apply for a refund, officials said. If you get an email, follow the instructions and respond by Oct. 27.

Still a little confused and wary?  That’s understandable in this case. You can avoid clicking the link in the email and start the claims process at ftc.gov/TechSupport or call the refund administrator at 877-793-0908, federal officials say.

The refund applies to eligible consumers who bought tech support products and services between April 2012 and November 2014. Again: the deadline to apply is Oct. 27, 2017.

 

Lake Worth man faces new order on phony FTC release, computer fixes

A Lake Worth man has been ordered to pay more than $52,000 and stop faking Federal Trade Commission press releases to sell useless tech support services.

An FTC complaint says this fake email press release was sent to consumers.

The FTC filed a complaint in April against Daniel L. Croft, doing business as PC Guru Tech Support and Elite Tech Support. Federal officials alleged he contacted consumers by email and used fake FTC press releases and the names of real agency staff members to trick consumers into contacting him so he could try to sell them unnecessary tech support services.

“The so-called ‘Federal Trade Commission Report’ is designed to look like a press release issued by the FTC and includes the FTC’s seal and motto, and even lists two FTC attorneys who work in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection,” the FTC’s complaint noted.

But the report was completely “bogus,” the complaint said.

Federal officials obtained a default judgment. An order issued July 20 by U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach imposes a fine and permanent injunction. Attempts to reach Croft for comment were not successful. There is no defense attorney listed in court records.

Robocalls: Why complain? New crackdown is why, FTC says

If you are sick of unwanted automated calls, there’s a new reason announced Tuesday to add your voice to the No. 1 gripe to the Federal Trade Commission with more than 1.9 million complaints in 2017.

You’re not just piling on by letting them know robocalls are driving you nuts. You’re giving regulators the specific number and subject of the call to help the industry better block these calls before they ever get to your phone.

Agency officials said when consumers report Do Not Call or robocall violations, the numbers provided will be released each day to telecommunications carriers and their partners carrying out efforts to block the calls.

“Sharing the critical information from consumers’ unwanted call complaints to enable industry innovators to stop illegal robocalls is exactly the type of public-private partnership the FTC champions,” said Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen.

The FTC will make available updated reports of what’s stirring up complaints, including the subject matter like debt reduction, energy, warranties, home security and so on.

It won’t solve every problem because telemarketers can change numbers and use “spoofed” or falsified ones, but federal officials said it will help make life more difficult for telemarketers not following the law.

Telemarketers are not supposed to call numbers on the Do Not Call registry or make automated sales calls without written permission. Some companies blatantly ignore these restrictions and such calls often promote scams, officials said.

Certain robocalls are allowed, such as the school district announcing classes are canceled or candidates running for office.

Report complaints here: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

 

Ringless robocall messages stir ire as other Florida calls halted

The dust had barely settled on one crackdown on Florida-based robocalls before another controversy popped up: automated voice messages left on phones that never rang, some involving a Florida car dealer.

Officials in New York, Massachusetts  and Kentucky said this week they want the Federal Communications Commission to stop a new twist: companies leaving ringless robocall messages.

The phone never rings and consumers don’t realize until they see they have a voice message that an advertiser has planted something on their phone.

That can defeat many call-blocking apps, impose unwanted costs on people with limited cell plans, mailbox limits or charges for checking messages, and add to a flood of automated calls that averaged 2.4 billion a month in 2016, officials said. It can even represent a way around “Do Not Call” lists, they said.

“Granting companies a free pass to push ringless voice messages to consumers’ phones just adds more robocalls and causes significant financial harm to those who are charged for checking their messages,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

A telemarketing company called All About The Message has argued before federal regulators that ringless messages deserve a place in the market, The New York Times reported.

“The act of depositing a voice mail on a voice mail service without dialing a consumers’ cellular telephone line does not result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer’s life — dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times or delivery charges to consumers,” the company wrote.

An early customer of the service has been a Naples, Fla. car dealer that was the subject of a lawsuit by an annoyed consumer, The Times reported.

Another advocate of ringless messages: The Republic National Committee, which has argued it should be protected as free political speech.

Meanwhile, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Federal Trade Commission said this week they obtained permanent injunctions halting purveyors of more traditional robocalling — an Orlando-based operation hawking what they called “worthless” services to reduce credit card interest.

“This massive robocall operation bombarded consumers with millions of unwanted calls and misled victims into purchasing ineffective financial services — but thanks to our joint investigation, this scheme has been permanently shut down,” Bondi said Monday.

Permanently barred from telemarketing and related services were All Us Marketing LLC, formerly known as Payless Solutions LLC; and Global Marketing Enterprises Inc., formerly known as Pay Less Solutions Inc.

Also subject to the court order: Global One Financial Services LLC; Your #1 Savings LLC; Ovadaa LLC; Royal Holdings Of America LLC; GRR Financial Services LLC; Auto Guardian USA, LLC, Premier Marketing International LLC; Gary Rodriguez; Marbel Rodriguez; Carmen Williams; Jonathan Paulino; Fairiborz Fard; Shirin Imani; Alex Serna, Christian Serna, and Kimberly Coarse.

Amazon made $70M unlawfully from kids, FTC said. Are you due a refund?

Online retailer Amazon, accused of unlawfully billing parents for more than $70 million in purchases by game-playing kids, has settled a case with federal regulators. Refunds are available.

The deadline for submitting refund requests is May 28, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday.

The charges in question took place between November 2011 and May 2016, officials said.

Amazon has offered many children’s apps for download to mobile devices such as the Kindle Fire, the FTC noted.  Children playing games such as “Ice Age Village” could spend unlimited amounts of money to pay for virtual items such as “coins,” “stars,” and “acorns” without sufficient parental consent, federal officials said in a 2014 complaint.

“Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in 2014.

Last month the FTC and Amazon agreed to end their litigation.

An Amazon spokesman said Tuesday, “Since the launch of the Appstore in 2011, Amazon has helped parents prevent purchases made without their permission by offering access to parental controls, clear notice of in-app purchasing, real-time notification for every in-app purchase and refund assistance for unauthorized purchases. The Court here affirmed our commitment to customers when it ruled no changes to current Appstore practices were required.”

The company spokesman continued, “To continue ensuring a great customer experience, we are happy to provide our customers what we have always provided: refunds for purchases they did not approve. We have contacted all eligible customers who have not already received a refund for unauthorized charges to help ensure their refunds are confirmed quickly.”

The FTC said refund requests can be completed online at https://www.amazon.com/gp/mas/refund-orders/in-apprefund. Customers can go to their Amazon.com accounts and go to the Message Center to find information about requesting a refund under Important Messages. Questions about individual refunds should be directed to Amazon at 866-216-1072, the FTC said.

Boynton firm named lead defendant in state ‘scammer’ crackdown

A Boynton Beach company is a leading target of a stepped-up crackdown on tech support schemes, which Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi characterized Friday as a “trick” to separate consumers from millions of dollars — all to solve problems that never existed.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi

“Tech support scams prey on people’s fear of losing important work, family photos or sensitive identification information,” Bondi said. “Using that fear, scammers trick thousands of consumers in to paying millions of dollars to fix problems that never existed. These scams will not be tolerated in Florida and that is why we are bringing more cases against more tech support scammers than any other state in the country—to protect consumers and recover money for victims.”

GoReady Calls Marketing LLC and principals Adam Lennox and Evan Keen are named in a suit Bondi’s office filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court under the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

A call to the company was not immediately returned Friday.

Consumers are targeted using pop-up ads disguised as computer virus alerts that tell consumers to call a number for help, state officials said. The number connects callers to a sales agent at a call center who “confirms” the computer is infected and in need of services or software, according to the suit.

The services are “unneccessary and costly,” state officials said.

An example of a pop-up warning that state officials say is part of a tech-support scheme.

In one example of tactics firms use, a pop-up warning in red urged consumers to call a number to “STOP Deleting Hard Drive,” complete with a “meaningless error code,” according to the suit.

The suit seeks a permanent injunction to prevent further violations, restitution for consumers and civil penalties of $10,000 per violation, or $15,000 for victimized senior citizens.

Bondi’s office said it was the 12th such action against tech-support firms, leading the nation. Additional suits targeted other firms around Florida and state officials joined with the Federal Trade Commission in the crackdown.

The state’s full release is here:

Attorney General Bondi Continues Efforts to Shut Down Tech Scams

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Attorney General Pam Bondi today announced the filing of three complaints, including one filed jointly with the Federal Trade Commission, against companies allegedly involved in the operation of tech support scams. Tech support scams trick consumers into believing their computers are infected with viruses and malware in an effort to bilk users out of hundreds of dollars.

“Tech support scams prey on people’s fear of losing important work, family photos or sensitive identification information. Using that fear, scammers trick thousands of consumers in to paying millions of dollars to fix problems that never existed,” said Attorney General Bondi. “These scams will not be tolerated in Florida and that is why we are bringing more cases against more tech support scammers than any other state in the country—to protect consumers and recover money for victims.”

These recent scams all involve similar tactics targeting consumers by using pop-up ads disguised as computer virus alerts that instruct consumers to call a number for help. This number connects callers to a sales agent at a call center who allegedly confirms the computer is infected and in need of services. The scammers exploit consumers’ fears about computer viruses, malware, hackers and other security threats, to ultimately convince them to purchase unnecessary and costly technical support services or software products.

Attorney General Bondi’s Office alleges that the following companies are in violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act:

  • GoReadyCalls Marketing, LLC, A.E.A. Worldwide, LLC, Capital Investments, LLC, Cutting Edge Outlook, LLC, Kradanomic Solutions, LLC, Secure It Digital Solutions, LLC, Software Pros, LLC, Teamkeen, LLC, Us Software Experts, LLC, Us Software Pros, LLC, Wizard Tech Solutions, LLC, Adam Lennox, Evan Keen;
  • Learn More Media, Inc. and Elesha Aflalo; and
  • Vylah Tec LLC d/b/a Vtec Support, Express Tech Help LLC, Tech Crew Support LLC, Angelo Cupo, Dennis Cupo and Robert Cupo.

Each complaint orders the freezing of assets, seeks immediate access to the business premises and the appointment of a receiver. The complaints filed against Learn More Media Inc., GoReadyCalls Marketing, LLC and related entities and individuals, also seek preliminary and permanent injunctions, full consumer restitution, disgorgement of ill-gotten monies and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Attorney General Bondi’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission jointly filed the complaint against Vtec Support in the Middle District of Florida. Today, Attorney General Bondi joined representatives from the Federal Trade Commission in Tampa to announce a major national and international crackdown on tech support scams. To learn more about this multiagency law enforcement sweep, click here.

To view the three complaints filed by Attorney General Bondi’s Office click here, here and here.

Since November 2014, Attorney General Bondi’s Office has filed 12 actions against tech support scam operations, leading the nation in shutting down these bad actors.

Anyone who suspects unfair or deceptive business practices can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at MyFloridaLegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM.

 

Nintendo Switch emulator: Avoid like Bob-omb. It’s a scam, feds say

Don’t slip on this banana peel, federal officials say — there is no Nintendo Switch “emulator” to run Switch games on your desktop.

Bob-omb

“It’s a scam,” says the Federal Trade Commission.

Online ads may come with Nintendo branding, but when you try to download an emulator, it can install nasty things like phony computer problems and a pitch to get you to pay to fix it, officials say.

Also, don’t fill out a survey that you must complete to get a code to unlock the emulator. It’s fake, according to the FTC.

If you find a scam, report it to the FTC.

“Play Nintendo Switch at your friend’s house until you’re able to buy the real one yourself,” an FTC advisory says.

 

FTC: No, we did not hire Lake Worth ‘scammer’ to fix your computer

A Lake Worth man told consumers he was on a mission from the Federal Trade Commission to fix their computers by removing dangerous software, FTC officials said. Emails even looked like official press releases from the agency, complete with the real FTC seal and motto, they said.

Trouble was, it was utterly “bogus,” the agency said.

Federal officials announced Tuesday a judge has ordered a temporary injunction against Daniel L. Croft,  doing business as PC Guru Tech Support and Elite Tech Support.

According to the FTC, Croft sent fake press releases and spam messages saying it was his job to call people and remove tracking software from their computers.

U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach ordered the defendant to stop claiming he is affiliated with the FTC, to shut down his websites and phone numbers and tell customers who contact him that he is not affiliated with the agency.

The  injunction comes as the FTC pursues a lawsuit against Croft. A court document does not list an attorney for Croft and an attempt to reach him for comment was not successful.

“To lure consumers into opening the unsolicited emails, the Defendant states in the subject line of the emails that ‘spyware was put on your computer’ by one of two purported technical support companies whose services the consumer had previously used: Fast Fix 123 LLC or One Bit IT Co.,” an FTC complaint says.

The agency says if you got one of those messages, please tell the FTC.

PC support scams have been prosecuted for years in Palm Beach County. This effort features a follow-up twist, offering to “help” people hit by an earlier scheme.