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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

FTC Busts Worldwide Internet Scam

ST. LOUIS (CN) — Operating through a call center in India, three men used a string of companies to bilk Americans of millions of dollars by sending them pop-up ads that claim their computers are infected, the FTC claims in court.

The lawsuit, filed under seal on Oct. 3, is part of a crackdown by regulators in five countries. U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey ordered it unsealed on Tuesday.

The five main LLC defendants are Global Access Technical Support, Global Smind, Source Pundit, Helios Digital Media, and Vglobal Ites Private Limited.

The human defendants are Rajiv Chhatwal, Rupinder Kaur and Neeraj Dubey.

The Federal Trade Commission says Chhatwal, the lead human defendant, "resides in this district," but offers no more specific information about his whereabouts or the others'. All of them, however, work through a call center in New Delhi and share bank accounts, email addresses, telephone numbers and employees.

The simple scheme tells computer users their computers are infected with a virus and the defendants can fix it, for money.

Attorneys representing the defendants did not respond to voice mail and email requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The FTC says: "Since at least 2013, defendants have bilked millions of dollars from consumers throughout the United States. In carrying out their scheme, defendants employ pop-up ads that warn consumers that their computers have been hacked, infected, or otherwise compromised, and are in immediate need of computer security or technical support service. The pop-ups advise consumers to call a toll-free number to obtain that service, and mislead consumers into believing that they are contacting technical support providers affiliated with Microsoft, Apple, or other well-known companies. Instead, when consumers call, they reach defendants' telemarketing boiler room in India, where they are then subjected to defendants' deceptive and high pressure sales tactics."

The scheme is known as "browser hijacking" because the pop-ups are designed so that users are unable to navigate or close them, leading them to think there is a serious issue with their computer.

Once consumers call the toll-free number, the defendants trick them into giving them remote access to their computers, locking them out while attempting to "fix" the malware that the scammer claimed was on the machine.

"Once defendants gain remote access, they are able to control the consumers' computers," the complaint states. "Among other things, defendants can view the computer screen, move the mouse or cursor, enter commands, run applications, and access stored information. At the same time, consumers can see what defendants are seeing and doing on their computers."

The FTC says the defendants' purported diagnostic tests are just high-pressure sales tactics. Many times, to gain consumers' trust, the defendants' agents claim to be associated with Microsoft or Apple. Defendants charge $200 for a one-time fix or $400 for a one-year technical support subscription.

Consumers are threatened that their computers will continue to have problems if they don't purchase the plans and are told even a one-time fix leaves the computer vulnerable to problems if they don't buy the extended plan.

"After charging consumers for technical support services, defendants then spend one to two hours logged on to consumers' computers to perform the purported 'repairs,'" the complaint states. "In numerous instances, these 'repairs' are unnecessary or even harmful. At best, defendants leave consumers' computers in no worse condition than when the consumers first called defendants. At worst, defendants' services may cause consumers' computers to be more vulnerable to security incursions and other technical problems."

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a news conference announcing the crackdown that U.S. authorities already have frozen $188,000 in assets. He expects that to increase, with international assistance.

There may be tens of thousands of victims worldwide, in at least six countries, and the FTC says the number could be "significantly higher."

It seeks a permanent injunction, disgorgement and restitution.

Here are the defendants: Global Access Technical Support LLC dba Global S Connect dba Yubdata Tech dba Technolive; Global Smind LLC dba Global S Connect; Source Pundit LLC dba Onesource Tech Support; Helios Digital Media LLC; Vglobal Ites Private Limited, an Indian Corporation; Rajiv Chhatwal, individually and as owner of Global Access Technical Support LLC, Helios Digital Media LLC, and Source Pundit LLC; Rupinder Kaur, individually and as owner of Global Smind LLC; Neeraj Dubey, individually and as an owner of Helios Digital Media LLC and Vglobal Ites Private Limited.

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