The Federal Trade Commission is providing full refunds to consumers who lost money to the NTS IT Care tech support scheme, which tricked consumers into buying expensive and unnecessary tech support services and often claimed to be affiliated with Microsoft, Apple, and other tech companies. According to a complaint, they often targeted older Americans and those unfamiliar with computer security.
The refunds stem from a 2020 settlement the FTC reached with NTS IT Care, Inc., and its CEO, Jagmeet Singh Virk. The FTC’s case against Virk and NTS had been under seal until earlier this year pending the outcome of a criminal case involving Virk and NTS brought by the Department of Justice.
“As a recent report to Congress makes clear, the FTC is committed to taking action to protect older consumers from scams like these that have a disproportionate impact on them,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “And, what’s more, the FTC will keep working with DOJ to ensure criminal prosecutions follow criminal conduct.”
In its complaint, the FTC said that NTS lured consumers through alarming and deceptive pop-up warnings that appeared when consumers browsed the Internet and often disabled their browsers. The pop-ups looked like a security alert from the computer’s operating system and falsely claimed that a consumer’s computer had been compromised by malicious software, such as a virus or spyware. The pop-up further stated that the computer had been “blocked,” and that the consumer’s personal information was being stolen. The pop-ups sometimes falsely claimed to be from Microsoft, Apple, or another legitimate tech company and instructed consumers to immediately call a toll-free number for help.
When consumers called the number, the company’s sales representatives ran bogus diagnostic scans to convince consumers that their computers needed immediate repair and used high-pressure and deceptive sales tactics to push consumers to buy multi-year technical support service packages that cost as much as $499. NTS and Virk made millions of dollars from the scheme.
Now, the FTC is using money obtained as part of the settlement to provide payments totaling more than $255,000 to 272 consumers who provided victim statements in the case against Virk and NTS. The average refund amount is $937. Most consumers will receive their payment by check and will have 90 days to cash their checks. Consumers who have questions about the refunds should contact the refund administrator by phone at 866-441-9746 or by email at [email protected].
The settlement imposed a $4.9 million judgment against NTS and Virk, which was partially suspended due to their inability to pay the full amount. In addition, NTS and Virk are permanently prohibited from selling or marketing any tech support service and from benefitting from any personal data they collected from consumers. They are also permanently banned from engaging in misleading telemarketing practices and from trying to collect payments from customers for technical support services they previously sold.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint and stipulated final order was 5-0. The Commission voted on the matter prior to the departure from the FTC of former Chairman Joe Simons as well as former Commissioners Rohit Chopra, Noah Joshua Phillips, and Christine S. Wilson. The FTC filed the complaint and final order in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. The court approved the stipulated final order in December 2020.
The lead FTC staffers on this matter were Ronnie Solomon and Sarah Schroeder from the FTC’s Western Region San Francisco.
The FTC would like to thank the Department of Justice, FBI, Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the Regional Enforcement Allied Computer Team (REACT Task Force), and the Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles & Silicon Valley for their assistance with this matter.
The Commission’s interactive dashboards for refund data provide a state-by-state breakdown of refunds in FTC cases. In 2022, Commission actions led to more than $392 million in refunds to consumers across the country.