Deerfield Beach's Michael Seward, Delray Beach's Kevin McCormick and Boynton Beach's Grant Wasik became the 15th, 16th and 17th people indicted in an alleged international tech support fraud that garnered $25 million over three years.
Remember those times your computer screen suddenly froze while screaming at you that you had a virus or malware munching your data? And to call the phone number shown for help getting rid of the problem?
A federal court indictment says the above set up an international fraud that grossed $25 million and involved people mainly from Palm Beach or Broward counties.
The indictments of Deerfield Beach's Michael Seward, 31; Delray Beach's Kevin McCormick, 45; and one of their employees, Boynton Beach's Grant Wasik, 35, on 13 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud bring the total under indictment to 17. Of those, 14 are from Broward or Palm Beach.
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Among the charged, 10 have pleaded guilty and two have been sentenced. Ryan Carr of New Jersey got a year in prison and was ordered to pay $20,384.86 in restitution. Lake Worth's Joshua Cortez got a year-and-a-half prison sentence and has to pay $3,034 in restitution.
Starting in November 2013, Seward and McCormick owned First Choice Tech Support, which changed its name to Client Care Experts in 2015. Wasik was the manager of the business, first headquartered in Pompano Beach, then moving up to Boynton Beach. Seward and McCormick also owned ABC Repair Tech, based in Costa Rica.
The alleged scam, as described in the indictment, updates a business con old enough to be a memorable part of Charlie Chaplin's 1921 movie, "The Kid:" cause a problem or appear to do so and get paid to "fix" it.
Instead of a boy breaking a window and his foster father window repairman showing up shortly thereafter, as in "The Kid," this involved freezing Windows (or a Mac) with pop-up advertisements. The ads didn't look like your normal, annoying peddling of wares or services, but like an apocalyptic warning — you've got a virus! Malware! Hard drive destruction!
"The appearance of the pop-ups was triggered by certain actions taken by the consumers, including misspelling URLs and domain names," the indictment reads. ""The pop-ups purchased by the owners and managers of Client Care/First Choice froze the browsers of the computers they appeared upon. As a result, the consumers typically were unable to exit the pop-ups without shutting down or re-booting their computers."
That omnipresence convinced the less tech savvy to call the phone number instead of just shutting down the computer. Now hooked, the caller spoke to a salesperson called a "Level One Diagnostic Technician," whose job was to reel in the caller. According to the indictment, the salesperson worked from a script that, of course, didn't give that favorite tech support command, "Reboot," which actually would work with this.
No, the indictment says, the salesperson requested remote control of the computer, then gravely blamed common functions, fictional viruses and malware for the frozen screen. Also, the act included a faux scanner that measured a computer's health. Always, the scanner found the computer as if it had electronic E. coli. It needed care.
And here comes the Windows repairman.
The salespeople tried to sell a system "tune-up" for $250 and anti-virus software for $400, "which was a substantial mark-up from the $8 per copy that Client Care/First Choice was paying for this software," the indictment comments.
"The conspiracy and scheme to defraud operated from approximately Nov. 12, 2013, through at least Dec. 9, 2016," the indictment says. "During this period, Client Care/First Choice and ABC Repair Tech victimized over 40,000 people out of more than $25,000,000. The victims were located in all 50 of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several U.S. territories, all 10 Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, and several other foreign countries."