WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - The Florida Attorney General's Office continues to crackdown on companies that allegedly bombard internet surfers with alarming pop-up messages to frighten them into buying computer security software and services.
The Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi sued several companies - ASAP Tech Help, E-Racer Tech, Protech Support and TechfixUSA, among others - seeking civil fines and restitution for alleged deceptive trade practices.
The attorney general claims the defendants and their marketing affiliates used pop-up messages to scare consumers into believing that something was gravely wrong with their computers.
The pop-ups directed the unwitting consumers, often the elderly, to contact the defendants' respective call centers, where sales agents would be lying in wait to coerce them into buying tech support and antivirus products, the attorney general claims.
Part of a months-long crackdown on alleged tech support schemes, this latest round of lawsuits was filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
"Businesses who prey on consumers' lack of knowledge about technology, especially seniors, to make a profit are ruthless," Bondi said in announcing the lawsuits. "We have seen an exponential growth of these particular scams in South Florida over the past few years and we will not tolerate them."
"The call centers, located in the Delray Beach and Boca Raton area, allegedly used deceptive marketing, such as pop up ads warning of viruses or other malware, to lead consumers to call these companies," a statement from Bondi's office says. "Consumers typically paid from $99 to $600 to resolve non-existent computer issues."
In the E-Racer lawsuit, it's alleged that consumers' computers were initially injected with software which generated pop-up alerts that the computers were infected with a virus. The alerts directed consumers to call E-Racer's phone center, and when they did, they were coerced by sales teams who masqueraded as Microsoft-affiliated agents in order to gain their trust, the lawsuit claims.
The agents pretended to be diagnosing the callers' computer problems, but were really just reading "a scripted sales pitch that inevitably leads to the conclusion every time that the consumer's computer is severely compromised and in need of immediate repair," the lawsuit states.
Some of the defendant companies, namely ASAP Tech and Protech, deployed freeware packages on the internet, which were disguised as computer-optimization tools in an effort to ensnare the public, according to the attorney general.
In the ASAP lawsuit, it's alleged that after consumers downloaded and ran the freeware Fast Clean Pro, the program would mislead them to believe their computer registry had errors but could be fixed by purchasing ASAP's software. If the user tried to close the purchase window, he or she would be flooded with more pop-ups, with directions to call ASAP's phone center for help, the lawsuit alleges.
"The pop-up windows are deceptive in that they mimic warnings of computer issues, scaring consumers into contacting the ASAP call center," the lawsuit states.
The attorney general is demanding that the tech support companies in all four new lawsuits reimburse the alleged victims and pay civil fines. The lawsuits also seek an injunction to prohibit the defendants from engaging in future internet marketing campaigns.
Listed as defendants are ASAP Tech Help LLC, Michael McArdle, Dustin Pillonato, ASAP Total Home LLC, Kesils Marketing LLC, and ASAP Home Entertainment LLC in the first new lawsuit; James N. Veser and E-Racer Tech LLC dba Clean It PC in the second new lawsuit; Protech Support LLC dba Rapid Tech Support, David Stein, Thomas Panik Sr., Interactiv Education LLC dba Direct Student Aid Inc., and Carefree Health Services Inc. in the third; Jonathan Roofeiim and Techfix USA dba PC Smart Support and First Class Tech Support in the fourth.
Three of the complaints (the ASAP, E-Racer and Protech cases) describe the defendants' operations as "multi-million dollar" scams.
In November 2014, the Florida Office of the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission took action to shut down a slew of other tech support companies, likewise accusing them of deceptive marketing.
Inbound Call Experts, Super PC Support and Vast Tech Support were mentioned as primary defendants in the attorney general's November press release.
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