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FTC Takes on Computer Scareware Scammers

Chairman Jon Leibowitz announces a major international crackdown on tech support scams

Chairman Jon Leibowitz announces a major international crackdown on tech support scams

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From VOA Learning English, this is the TECHNOLOGY REPORT in Special English.

A court in the United States has announced a judgment of more than one hundred sixty million dollars against defendants in a “scareware” operation. The case named Kristy Ross, both individually and as an officer of Innovative Marketing, Inc. Two founders of the company, Sam Jain and Daniel Sundin, were found to be jointly liable for the fine.

The three are the last of eight defendants named in a case brought by the Federal Trade Commission in two thousand eight. The FTC accused them of using dishonest methods to trick more than one million individuals into buying computer security software programs. This practice is known as “scareware.”

Robert Siciliano is a security expert with McAfee, the American computer security company. We spoke to him by Skype.

ROBERT SICILIANO: “Scareware is a form of computer virus that ends up on your PC and essentially tries to scare you into coughing up your credit card number to buy software that is supposed to fix your computer.”

Robert Siciliano says “scareware” often appears as a pop-up message on a computer.

ROBERT SICILIANO: “It’ll show a screen saying there is some bad virus on your PC. It shows up like the night in shining armor to protect you from this new virus that you’re computer just got.”

He also says there are a number of things that make the message appear believable.

ROBERT SICILIANO: “What makes the scam look credible is that it often grabs a screen shot of what your computer looks like, windows that mimic the characteristics of your PC. And that brings some familiarity to you which enhances the quality of the scam.”

In some cases, “scareware” operators misrepresent themselves as real companies, like Dell, Microsoft, even McAfee. There is an order form, a place to add credit card information, and yes -- a download. You may even receive a confirmation email thanking you for your purchase.

But Mr. Siciliano says, in reality, there was nothing to fix in the first place. What you get for your money is often a junk software program. Even more often, he says, it is something more harmful.

ROBERT SICILIANO: “You now have a virus and anything you do beyond that -- any links that you click, any personal information that you enter -- you’re essentially going deeper down the rabbit hole, making the problem much worse.”

The judgment last week bars the defendants from selling computer security software and any other software that interferes with computer use. It also bars them from any form of misleading marketing.

Last week, the FTC announced action against six other companies suspected of tricking people to buy unneeded anti-virus software. Many of the companies are said to be based in India.

And that's the VOA Special English Technology Report. I'm June Simms.

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