In recent years, as a computer support consultant, I’ve occasionally had people tell me about a paid support program offered by Microsoft. For a certain fee, a person from Microsoft will remotely access their computer and fix problems. Most of these turn out to be scams. Someone recently told me they were charged over $500 for Panda Antivirus installation. Considering the software is available for free, or a paid version for about $70, the $500 price tag is excessive. It’s important to confirm that you know what support company you’re dealing with.
Microsoft does offer paid support through the AnswerDesk.MicrosoftStore.com website. Certain problems can be fixed for about $100. A full year of unlimited Microsoft support and training is available for $149 (the Assure Software Support Plan). That’s a fairly good deal depending on how much you use the service. However, there are some unscrupulous con artists who pretend to be affiliated with Microsoft, yet aren’t.
Federal Trade Commission Responds
This is the response from the Federal Trade Commission about these scams.
Scammers have been peddling bogus security software for years. They set up fake websites, offer free “security” scans, and send alarming messages to try to convince you that your computer is infected. Then, they try to sell you software to fix the problem. At best, the software is worthless or available elsewhere for free. At worst, it could be malware — software designed to give criminals access to your computer and your personal information.
The latest version of the scam begins with a phone call. Scammers can get your name and other basic information from public directories. They might even guess what computer software you’re using.
Once they have you on the phone, they often try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. They may ask you to go to your computer and perform a series of complex tasks. Sometimes, they target legitimate computer files and claim that they are viruses. Their tactics are designed to scare you into believing they can help fix your “problem.”
Once they’ve gained your trust, they may ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable… (More…)
Pictured here is a message produced by a malware virus that encourages the user to call a toll free number where hackers and identity thieves await your call.
They will get your credit card number for ‘billing purposes’ and then provide a semi-convincing ‘support session’ which likely includes stealing personal data from your hard drive.
Users are under the impression that they are dealing with Microsoft® trained technicians, which could be interpreted as “official Microsoft technicians who are trained by Microsoft.”
At the time of this writing, a Google search for the phone number 866-412-8942 is listed as Edgecombe Plumbing in New York City. That’s either a front for the scammers, or it’s a business that unknowingly assigned the toll-free number.
Advanced Tech Support 800-978-4501
Another group that people mistakenly believe are official Microsoft technicians is called Advanced Tech Support. Do a Google search for these people and you’ll end up with a laundry list of consumer complaints including a Better Business Bureau report on them with 77 complaints and a revoked accreditation. This is what the BBB has to say:
Our file contains information from consumers alleging misleading sales tactics and failure to perform promised services. Complaints allege, after consumers contact Advanced Tech Support for service, a representative from the business will attempt to repair their computer for a fee. After the fee was paid the computers were still not fixed or more damage was caused. Consumers state that additional fees they were not aware of are required before Advanced Tech Support will make further repairs.
Advanced Tech Support responds to these complaints with apologies and by issuing refunds.
On April 11, 2013, BBB sent certified correspondence to Advanced Tech Support requesting their voluntary cooperation in resolving complaints on file with BBB and providing steps it will implement to eliminate the pattern of customer complaints.
On April 25, 2013, Advanced Tech Support responded to BBB’s concerns. Regarding the issue of Advanced Tech Support being unable to fix the computer or more damage caused; the company states they have certified technicians on staff that will remotely log on to a user’s computer to fix their machine. Unfortunately, the bad guys (Virus/Malware writers) have already done too much damage to the machine and they are unable to fix it. This does not happen a lot of the time, but it does happen. If this happens, we refund the customer in full for their order and work diligently to make sure the machine is left in the same position that it was when we received it. On other occasions the problem may be a hardware issue, which may not be fixed remotely. In that scenario, the user is refunded in full and advised to bring the computer to a local technician that may be able to better assist them. On both of the above scenarios, Advanced Tech Support doesn’t know the full details or issues with the computer until the work is started by one of our certified technicians (after the sale).
Regarding issue of additional fees required before Advanced Tech Support will make further repairs after initial fee; the company states many times this happens when a user only purchase a one-time fix instead of the yearly plan. In this case, the customer may call back at a later date and request more work to be done. Many times when Advanced Tech Support diagnoses the issue it is from a new problem than what was originally resolved – so there would be another fee for the fixing of this new issue.
Advanced Tech Support goes on further to say they have recently spent a significant amount of company resources on some automated technologies that will allow them to fix computers better. In addition, they have been sending technicians to classes to further their education and certifications. Even with this said there will always be some viruses that technicians will not be able to remove because they have been embedded too deep into the operating system or have already caused irreparable damage. When this happens, Advanced Tech Support states they will always give the user a refund, just as they do now.
Ultimately, this company’s accreditation was revoked on August 21, 2013.
On October 2, 2013, BBB reviewed the complaints that have been recently filed and have determined that the pattern as noted above still exists.
BBB will continue to monitor the complaint activity of the company and update the Business Review as needed. (source)
Ripoff Report Feedback
Consumers have reported their experiences with Advanced Tech Support on the RipoffReport.com website.
Our nightmare began June 18, 2013 My computer would not update 2 important Windows updates. I was directed to contact Advanced Tech Support. It appeared that Windows was directing us to them. We were told that the computer had problems with the “Registry issues” and that subscription to their service is $180.00. Since we are a small business and could not afford down time, we bought into their service. Well, to make a long story short, it was about 2 weeks and the computer was still not up and running (Now we were interfacing with their Level 3 group, supposedly the most expert in computer repair) These So called experts told us that we needed Panda Security software in order to take care of the “Registry Issue” and that they would do us a big favor and install the software on both our office computers for only $300.00 (Normally $500.00) Being shut down for 2 weeks we were frantic and bought the program. Then all Hell broke loose. My computer literally crashed, as in DEAD. My husbands computer’s E drive where all the office files were on, was gone. Now it is July 4th weekend and we are purchasing a new computer for me. Fortunately the store we purchased from was able to recover my husband’s E drive. Knowing the company is in Boca Raton, Florida and we are just slightly South of Boca, I demanded a refund. I also asked for the name of the CEO We were given the refund but we were not given the name of the owners of the company. We have contacted several of the local news stations with the desire for us to share our story so that others are not scammed. For those of you who have lost money, I recommend that you contact them again and demand a refund. These people have to be stopped. They cost us thousands of dollars in hardware and thousands more in lost revenue as they are doing to others. (source)