Tara Ramirez was alarmed when her computer displayed the message, “Trojan Virus System Alert!!,” but now she thinks the warning was a rouse to trick her into paying a fee to fix a phony problem.
Ramirez filed a class action lawsuit against the company she believes posted the message in U.S. District Court in White Plains on July 31.
She claims that SupportBuddy Inc. of Bakersfield, California, “markets a solution to a computer problem it created.”
SupportBuddy did not immediately respond to a voicemail message requesting comment, and an email was returned undelivered, “mailbox quota exceeded.”
The alleged scheme resembles computer repair scams that the Federal Trade Commission has been warning consumers about since at least 2011.
Scammers use software designed to trick consumers into thinking there are problems with their computers, the FTC says, and then use deceptive, high-pressure sales pitches to impel people to buy products and services to fix the nonexistent problems.
Tech support fraudsters try to gain a customer’s trust to get access to the computer, personal information and financial information. The goal is to trick people, the FTC says, into giving them remote access to their computers and ultimately to pay for bogus software.
Ramirez, of Westchester County, said she was fooled when she visited a computer support website in September 2015. A pop-up window appeared on her computer with alarming messages:
“Your computer is infected with an adware or malware causing you to see this popup.”
“Possibility of data & identity theft, if not fixed immediately.”
The webpage displayed Apple Computer and Norton Symantec antivirus logos, and a “Mac Helpline” phone number. But the number, according to the lawsuit, was actually for SupportBuddy and the company has no affiliation with Apple or Norton.
Ramirez closed the window and another pop-up immediately replaced it.
“YOUR MAC COMPUTER HAS BEEN BLOCKED,” the second pop-up said.
“Suspicious Activity Detected. Your Browser might have been hijacked or hacked.”
She was urged to contact Apple support, using the SupportBuddy phone number.
Ramirez believed the warnings were legitimate messages from her operating system, web browser or antivirus software.
She called the phone number and paid $529 to have the malware removed.
Before filing the lawsuit, her lawyer demanded that SupportBuddy disclose the names of people who acted on its behalf. A remediation was scheduled for last month but canceled.
Ramirez said her experience was not unique. SupportBuddy’s own Facebook page, the lawsuit states, lists reviews by several unhappy customers.
The lawsuit claims that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people have been victimized, and that the costs of the alleged deception exceed $5 million.
Ramirez accuses SupportBuddy of violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, intentional misrepresentation under common law and violation of New York’s consumer protection law.