By Diane Bartz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal court has temporarily shut down a U.S. technology telemarketing operation accused of bilking customers of $120 million, while also ordering the freezing of assets of telemarketers and their executives.
The Federal Trade Commission said on Wednesday that it successfully asked a federal court in Florida to shut down Boost Software and its related operation, Vast Tech Support.
Vast's chief executive is Elliot Loewenstern, whom convicted con artist Jordan Belfort described in his best-selling memoir about a Wall Street pump-and-dump operation - "The Wolf of Wall Street" - as a "long-time friend."
The FTC also asked the court to shutter a larger operation, Inbound Call Experts LLC. Altogether the companies scammed tens of thousands of customers out of more than $120 million for tech support they did not need, the commission said.
“These operations prey on consumers’ lack of technical knowledge with deceptive pitches and high-pressure tactics," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection
None of the companies could be reached for comment. A call to Loewenstern's home in Boca Raton had a message saying that it had been "temporarily disconnected at the customer's request."
The scam, a common one, involves salespeople who call homes to persuade customers to download and run a free scan of their computer. That scan typically turns up numerous problems, even if none exist, and the would-be customer is then urged to buy software for $29 to $49, the FTC said.
In some instances, people were pushed to buy support services that cost as much as $500, the FTC said.
The website Glassdoor.com, where employees talk about their companies anonymously, had postings from nine who had worked at Inbound Call Experts but just one who recommended a job at the company.
"Customers are lied to and because of that can get very agitated," one wrote. "They're a dishonest company who use scare tactics and lies to bait in (sic) unsuspecting customers, especially the elderly who are easily taken advantage of."
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny and Steve Orlofsky)