March 7, 2019 Press Release

Press Release

Attorney General Ellison seeks judgment in lawsuit against tech-support scam as part of nationwide crackdown on scammers

Files motion for default judgment against Teknicians, Inc., warns Minnesota consumers about tech-support scams as part of Tech Support Takedown

March 7, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced at a press conference today that the Attorney General’s Office has moved for default judgment in a lawsuit against operators of Bloomington-based tech-support scam Teknicians, Inc., as part of a nationwide crackdown on scammers who try to trick consumers into buying costly tech support and repair services.

“Helping people afford their lives and live with dignity means helping people who’ve been victimized by sophisticated tech-support scams, and rooting out and holding accountable perpetrators who prey on consumers — especially our seniors. We’re doing all that and more to crack down on scammers and protect Minnesota consumers,” Attorney General Ellison said.

“But as we keep up this work, we need you to do two things to help: be alert, and come forward,” Attorney General Ellison continued. “Educate yourself and your loved ones about how tech-support scams operate, and be alert for the signs of a scam. And if you’ve been victimized, come forward and tell your story so that my office can help you, hold scammers accountable, and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Scammers want people to feel ashamed and stay quiet: shame and silence only help them. When you come forward, shame transforms into the power of helping others.”

The effort to combat tech-support scams is a year-long, multistate effort called Tech Support Takedown that Minnesota, in coordination with 18 attorneys general from across the country through the nonpartisan National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), has joined with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and other regulators. Each participating state is highlighting its work to protect consumers from tech-support scams during National Consumer Protection Week, March 4–8 (#NCPW2019).

Attorney General Ellison, NAAG, and the FTC have released updated guidance for consumers and businesses on how to spot and avoid be victimized by a tech-support scam. This includes a new three-minute video that features a consumer who fell victim to a tech-support scam, a short video capture of an actual scam pop-up and audio warning as it appeared on a computer in Minnesota, so that consumers can see what a scam attempt looks like in action, and screen captures and an audio clip that the Minnesota Attorney General’s office obtained during its investigation of Teknicians. All are available at the Attorney General’s Tech Support Scam Takedown page.

In the past two years alone, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has received more than 300 complaints about tech-support scams.

Minnesotans’ stories

Attorney General Ellison was joined at the press conference by Valerie Johnson, a resident of Hoffman, Minnesota who fell victim to a tech-support scam. Ms. Johnson recounted that in February 2016, she received a call from a tech-support scammer. The scammer told her that her computer was infected with a virus and offered to fix the problem for $199. Ms. Johnson agreed but cancelled after two months. In March and September 2017, she received further calls from the scammer with instructions to renew her service. She then made additional payments of $178.99 and $179.99 to the scammer. In February 2018, Ms. Johnson received a call from the tech-support scammer indicating that it owed her a refund. The caller then accessed her bank account supposedly to deposit the refund, but when Ms. Johnson checked the next day, she saw that in reality, the scammer had withdrawn another $550 from her account. After her banker recommended to Ms. Johnson that she contact the Attorney General’s Office for help, she was able to get her money back.

Toward the end of this period, the calls from scammers came in frequently, seemingly from local numbers that would quickly change. Ms. Johnson had to go to the expense of changing her phone number for them to stop.

“It makes you feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, and out of control,” she said. “I come today to say that it affects people no matter who you are, and it makes you feel so darn foolish. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this.”

Attorney Ellison replied, “I just want to let you know you’re not foolish—you’re actually quite courageous and brave and smart to be here helping other people.”

Nathan Austin, co-founder and vice president of business development for Minneapolis-based My Tech Partners, which provides IT consulting and tech support for small and medium-sized businesses, described how a Florida-based tech-support scam that used the same name as his company victimized consumers who still complain to his legitimate business about fraudulent charges on their credit cards. Mr. Austin and his business were forced to send a cease-and-desist letter to the scammer. He also told stories of small and medium-sized businesses who fell victim to highly sophisticated tech-support scams.

He said, “We Minnesotans are generally a trusting people. Unfortunately, there are bad actors out there who prey on that trust.”

How tech-support scams work

Tech-support scams work in similar ways. Scammers use phone calls and online pop-up ads that resemble security alerts from major technology companies to trick consumers into contacting the operators of these schemes and providing remote access to the consumers’ computers. The scammers will claim consumers’ computers are infected with viruses or experiencing other problems. They then try to pressure consumers into buying unnecessary computer repair services, service plans, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services.

Attorney General’s Office lawsuit against scammer Teknicians, Inc.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation of Teknicians, Inc., a company based in Bloomington, after receiving consumer complaints that the company was running a textbook tech-support scam. In early January 2019, after conducting an investigation that involved undercover calls to the company, Minnesota brought a lawsuit against Teknicians to stop its practices and make whole the consumers it harmed.

In calls with investigators, the company falsely claimed to be affiliated with Microsoft. After Teknicians obtained remote access to their computers, Teknicians told the investigators that the computers were infected with malicious viruses and would become unusable if they did not purchase tech support help from Teknicians. In fact, nothing was wrong with the investigators’ computers. Disturbingly, after an investigator ended one call with Teknicians, Teknicians maintained remote access to the computer, and even started the computer’s web camera to view the investigator.

Because Teknicians has failed to respond to the State’s lawsuit, Attorney General Ellison’s office yesterday filed a motion for default judgment in the case. The State seeks an injunction against Teknicians’ deceptive practices, restitution for consumers harmed by Teknicians’ conduct, and civil penalties.

How Minnesota consumers can protect themselves

Consumers can protect themselves against tech-support scams by hanging up if they receive a call claiming their computer is infected with a virus. If you receive a pop-up message asking you to call a telephone number for tech support assistance, do not react to it at all. Instead, take a picture of the pop-up, including the URL of the web page, and include that picture with a report to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the FTC, or other law-enforcement agencies.

If an unknown person has remotely accessed your computer, disconnect it from the Internet immediately, turn it off, and take it to a reputable computer technician for inspection. If you provided a credit card or bank account number, contact your financial institution right away to dispute any inappropriate charge. And if your personal information was compromised, consider taking steps to protect yourself from identity theft, such as placing a fraud alert on your credit report and monitoring your financial accounts for unauthorized activity.

Nathan Austin of MyTech Partners stressed that consumers should be wary of people who cold-contact them to insist that their computers are infected, and should also be wary of tactics that pressure them into buying services or prescriptions. He recommended that small and medium-sized businesses work with a local tech-support business whose physical office they can visit, and that they check with industry associations for tech-support companies that engage with their industry.

Consumers or businesses who have been contacted by, have suspicions about, or have fallen victim to tech-support scams are encouraged to contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office at (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787. All calls are answered live from 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In addition to Minnesota, the other states participating in Tech Support Takedown are Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and the District of Columbia.