The Federal Trade Commisson has issued a $7.5 million (£5.7 million) fine against alleged tech support scammer Parmjit Singh Brar for channelling payments taken during a long list of frauds against US citizens.
A lot of money, of course, although the fact that Brar will only pay $136,000 of it upfront in a settlement because of an inability to pay the rest, takes the edge off its pain somewhat.
The FTC has also barred Brar from “marketing, promoting, or offering tech support services” for life.
Brar carried this out through two companies, Genius Technologies and Avangatee Services (not to be confused with Avangate), from September 2015 onwards.
The complaint lists a series of huge payments from unnamed (mostly ageing) individuals, including wired payments of $79,998 and $59,998, and signed cheques from unnamed victims of $19,998 (for “internet repair”), $41,998 (for “computer security”), and $22,000 (for “computer support”).
In some cases, Brar’s companies were said to have banked large sums from the same people on the same day – $9,949 and $9,940 from one, and $14,999.99 and $13,000, and $23,999 and $26,000 from two others.
Occasionally, relatives or carers of the defrauded victims noticed what was going on and decided to intervene, as the case notes explain:
In March 2017, a police officer in Michigan contacted Defendant Brar demanding restitution in the amount of $29,998 for an elderly consumer who had fallen victim to the tech support scheme. In response to that demand, Defendant Brar complied and sent the consumer a cashier’s check for the requested amount.
The scams worked like this: Indian telemarketers would contact victims by phone or via pop-up web ads, and would talk their prey into paying to solve fictitious problems affecting their computers.
Often, the fraudsters pretended to be from well-known companies and would attempt to gain remote access to peoples’ computers, a ruse to install out-of-date AV or to rummage for personal data.
If the victim seemed gullible, they’d receive follow-up calls where the same tricks would be repeated.
It’s a well-trodden path to riches for scammers which in this case is believed to have resulted in millions being lifted from victims. The alleged role of Brar’s companies was to act as a US point for receiving payments.
The FTC has been battling tech support scams for years, especially ones targeting older citizens who are seen by fraudsters everywhere as susceptible to these cons.
This has resulted in around 500 cases being lodged in the agency’s Consumer Sentinel since 2013.
Is the campaign working? You could argue the toss either way. On the one hand, the agency has recently pursued a long list of alleged scammers, but the real battle will always be how many of these end up with the US Department of Justice seeking criminal penalties.
Only when more tech support scammers end up behind bars will the message start get through.