Court clamps down on scareware

Consumers could see less pop-ups falsely claiming their computers are infected with viruses or illegal porn after a US district court ordered a halt to a massive “scareware” scheme.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, which requested the court’s action, the scheme has tricked more than a million consumers around the world into buying computer security products such as WinFixer, WinAntivirus, DriveCleaner, ErrorSafe, and XP Antivirus.

“The defendants used an elaborate ruse that duped Internet advertising networks and popular Web sites into carrying their advertisements,” the FTC says in a statement.

“The defendants falsely claimed that they were placing Internet advertisements on behalf of legitimate companies and organizations, but due to hidden programming code that the defendants inserted into the advertisements, consumers who visited Web sites where these ads were placed did not receive them. Instead, consumers received exploitive advertisements that took them to one of the defendants’ Web sites.”

The FTC says those sites would then claim to scan the consumers’ computers for security and privacy issues. The “scans” would find a host of purported problems and urge consumers to buy the defendants’ computer security products for $39.95 (£27) or more. However, the scans were entirely false, the FTC says.

According to the complaint, the two companies charged in the case – Innovative Marketing, and ByteHosting Internet Services – operate using a variety of aliases and maintain offices in various countries.

Innovative Marketing is a company incorporated in Belize that maintains offices in Kiev, Ukraine. ByteHosting Internet Services is based in Ohio.

Under terms of a temporary restraining order the defendants are barred from falsely representing that they have run any type of computer analysis, or that they have detected security or privacy problems on a consumer’s computer.

The court also froze the assets of those responsible for the scheme with a view to allowing consumers to claim money back from the alleged scammers, but stressed that the finding did not mean the defendants had necessarily violated the law.

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