TYLER, Texas – U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox announced that the United States has seized 6 websites that were unlawfully used as part of a telemarketing/online advertising scheme to deceive Amazon customers into purchasing unnecessary services to set up their Amazon Echo devices.
“The Eastern District of Texas is proud to work alongside our federal law enforcement partners to protect consumers from Internet-based fraud schemes, and we are glad to partner with companies such as Amazon which referred this matter to the Department in the first instance,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox. “The collaborative efforts that led to the seizures of these phony websites are just the first steps toward holding the wrongdoers accountable.”
“Internet-based fraud schemes are challenging for law enforcement as they typically involve an organized group of con artists scattered around the world,” said William Mack, U.S. Secret Service Resident Agent in Charge of the Tyler Resident Office. “The success of this investigation was the direct result of investigative actions taken by the Secret Service and the Department of Justice. The Secret Service will continue to strengthen our partnerships between the public and private sector, our law enforcement colleagues, and the Department of Justice. The Secret Service will continue to lead the fight against cyber-enabled fraud and hold accountable all those who seek to exploit U.S. citizens for their own illicit gain.”
The seized websites contained photographs of Amazon Echo devices and purported to offer services to help Amazon customers activate their devices. These websites had links to “download” the Alexa app. Rather than leading customers to actually download the Alexa app, these websites simulated a phony “download” process and ended with an error message concerning the purported “failed download.” The websites then prompted customers to call specific telephone numbers for technical support with the application.
Once customers called those phone numbers, so-called “technicians” working for the website operators would take remote control of the customers’ computers and convince them that there were “technical issues” that prevented their Echo devices from working properly. But in reality, no such issues existed. The technicians would then sell the customers computer services to fix these fictional issues, charging the customers a fee ($99 for a two-year plan or $149 for a four-year plan) for otherwise-free and otherwise-unnecessary steps like registering the Alexa software or providing network security.
The Justice Department recommends that Americans take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from similar scams:
- Before purchasing products or services to support electronic devices, check with the actual manufacturer or provider of those devices to determine whether those services are legitimate or necessary.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.
- Do not download software to allow unknown or unverified sources to access your computers or your devices.
- Do not purchase services from telemarketers or online marketers when the solicitation lacks a written description of the services provided and for which no business address is provided.
Further recommendations and resources for victims of deceptive marketing scams and more information on how to avoid becoming the victim of fraud schemes can be found at www.ftc.gov.
Following the United States’ seizure of the websites, visitors to the sites will receive the following message:
This seizure was investigated by the United States Secret Service and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Hornok, Nathaniel C. Kummerfeld, and Robert Wells. The investigation was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, as part of its coordination of the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force.