DOJ Office of Consumer Protection recovers $96,000 for victims of tech support scheme
HELENA – The state Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) will be sending restitution checks totaling $96,258 to more than 350 people who were deceived by operators of an alleged tech support scheme. The money was relinquished by a Butte man who assisted scammers in India. It is the first settlement of its kind for the Department of Justice.
An OCP investigation identified at least 358 victims who paid hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for technical support services they never received from India-based cold callers offering to remove harmful viruses or malware for a fee on the computers of unsuspecting victims. Meanwhile, the supposed tech support scammers themselves were modifying the computers and installing malicious software. Victims were then instructed to mail payments to Butte resident Richard Kenison, who wired most of the money through his company Tag Marketing, LLC to the foreign scammers and kept a small share for himself. Between October 2020 and February 2022, Kenison received at least 658 checks from victims totaling over $2 million.
A consent judgement approved this week in Silver Bow County District Court permanently shuts down Tag Market and prevents Kenison from engaging in any similar business ventures in Montana. It also requires that he pay $96,258 to the State so it may distribute the funds back to the victims. OCP will administer a victim claims process beginning with notifying every victim by mail and providing each with a claim form and submission instructions. Victims will have 90-days to submit a valid claim.
The investigation revealed by the India-based scammers contacted Kenison and offered a partnership shortly after he was unknowingly victimized by the scammers himself in 2019. He voluntarily terminated the business relationship, turned over all evidence, and ceased any future financial transactions related to the scheme after meeting with an OCP investigator in early March.
Tech support scams are just one form of a broader scheme type known as imposter scams. Tech support scams trick consumers into believing their computers are infected with viruses or malware and then charge exorbitant fees for unnecessary repairs. The con preys on the consumer’s legitimate concerns about cyber threats while itself being a major threat. Using fear as a motivator, coupled with high-pressure tactics, consumers are usually told that to diagnose computer problems they must allow strangers remote access to their personal device. After gaining access, scammers typically run a series of “diagnostic tests,” or “fixes,” which inevitably reveal the existence of grave problems requiring immediate repair.
Allowing unknown persons remote access to electronic devices is highly risky; scammers can install keystroke recording software, steal personal information such as tax returns or login credentials, or fully hijack a personal computer. OCP strongly encourages consumers to research the alleged company or person claiming to provide support services before engaging them in any way by contacting:
- The Montana Office of Consumer Protection to speak with a specialist – (800) 481-6896;
- A trusted friend or family member and share the details of what you’re being directed to do;
- Local law enforcement – these offices are often front-line points of communication for scam victims who don’t know where to turn; or
- The Federal Trade Commission – (202) 326-2222.