GREENWOOD, S.C. —An Upstate woman is charged in connection with a multimillion dollar scam in which personal computers appear to have been shut down by hackers and a company demands payment to remedy the problem.The Better Business Bureau released the information Wednesday to warn consumers about the scam.
A grand jury indictment says Linda Massey, of Greenwood, worked with a man named Aman Mehndiratta, in an operation that law enforcement said has stolen at least $5 million dollars.
Massey is charged with mail fraud, racketeering and money laundering and if convicted is liable for sums equal to or greater than $5,198,000.
The BBB currently has 123 complaints on file from Canada, the United States and Caribbean about the company, Prime Technologies LLC. The BBB is warning consumers to be wary of tech companies using a similar guise, since twelve different company names have been traced back to the LLC so far.
Consumers allege that initial contact is made either by a pop up that freezes the computer that includes a phone number prompt or a phone call insisting immediate action needs to be taken or there will be dire consequences.
Once this initial contact is made, the company weaves a tale about hackers attempting to sneak through firewalls or of a virus infecting the machine. Callers with the scam company say the computer has sent out a distress signal indicating the hacking or virus, and say they can fix the problem through remote access.
The scammers then install a series of programs to ensure you don’t have this problem again. These programs are malware enabling these individuals to enter and control your computer without your permission giving them unabridged access to personal and financial information as well as your computer activity.
Once the installation is complete the company will demand payment for a lifetime warranty to prevent the intrusion from happening again. If individuals refuse to pay the amount, the situation immediately escalates and the company shuts down the computer holding the device hostage until payment is completed.
Consumers who do pay for the service and lifetime warranty report that the hacking/lockdown happens again and again, with a reason given each time why the lifetime warranty doesn’t cover those services.
Once the company is granted access to a device, consumers report they are either brought to their event log or instructed to access their online banking information where this company can point out exactly where the intrusions happened.
One man lost $20,000 to this company before he realized he was being scammed, according to the BBB.
Consumers reported that refusing to pay escalates the scam from vulgar language, insults and threats to much more malicious behavior. Some consumers watch as their computer cameras turn on and they see themselves on screen, while a voice comes through the speakers threatening the individual’s life and family.
One consumer was terrified when her refusal to pay caused her computer to be turned off and a message to come through the printer. After these incidents, the consumer reported that a message popped up on her desktop full of obscenities and threats which was immediately processed through her printer.
Massey told the BBB she initially made contact with the company because of a pop-up on her computer told her to call a number for PC Visor because of a virus.
During the call, she spoke with a man she referred to as “Andy,” who she told the BBB is actually named Aman Mehndiratta, her co-defendant.
Massey said Mehndiratta contacted her multiple times, and convinced her to set up an LLC in South Carolina named Prime Technologies using her personal mailing address. Her only responsibility was to put the checks in the bank while collecting a commission on each check received. She wired the balance of the money to Mehndiratta, the indictment.
The companies the BBB is warning consumers about include:
Prime Technologies LLC
Prime & Tech Solutions
Prime Tech Help
Anyone who encounters the pop-up telling them to call for help is encouraged to take their computer to a professional technician.
The BBB is working with the USPS, FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to stop this scam.
The BBB has the following advice if you have been a victim of this scam:
Go to a service technician approved by your computer company. It has been reported that the company embeds their programs into your Basic Input Output Systems (BIOS) which means there is no DIY remedy.
File a complaint immediately. Report this incident to www.ic3.gov/ and if payment was made by mailing a check go here postalinspectors.uspis.gov . This information will assist law enforcement officials.
Contact service provider. Make your computer company aware of the situation. Some companies have created cybercrime units to look into scams of this nature.
Change all passwords. Especially any accounts you may have accessed on your computer.
Monitor bank activity. Alert your bank to the fraudulent activity and monitor statements closely.
To protect yourself from scammers attempting to access your computer:
Don’t give out personal or financial information to an unsolicited caller. Hang up and call your service provider. Do not rely on caller id which is easily spoofed.
Never grant remote access to unknown parties. Scammers will routinely try to use high pressure tactics to convince you to let them in. Don’t.
Routinely update all operating systems. Be consistent about updating your web browser software, operating system, firewall and anti-virus software regularly.
Cut ties with any company that insists you can only use them. All companies pride themselves on customer service and understand a consumer has options. Once a company demands loyalty, walk away.