You can’t make this stuff up: A tech support company based in the United States that outsources its work to India says its brand is being unfairly maligned by — wait for it…..tech support scammers based in India. In an added twist, the U.S.-based tech support firm acknowledges that the trouble may be related to its admittedly false statements about being a Microsoft Certified Partner — the same false statements made by most telephone-based tech support scams.
Tech support scams are, unfortunately, an extremely common scourge. Most such scams are the telephonic equivalent of rogue antivirus attacks, which try to frighten consumers into purchasing worthless security software and services. Both types of scams try to make the consumer believe that the caller is somehow associated with Microsoft or with a security company, and each caller tries to cajole or scare the consumer into giving up control over his or her PC.
Earlier this month, a reader shared a link to a lengthy Youtube video by freelance journalist Carey Holzman, in which Holzman turns the tables on the tech support scammers. During the video, Holzman plays along and gives the scammer remote control access to a test computer he’s set up specifically for this video. The scammer, who speaks with a strong Indian accent but calls himself “Steve Wilson” from the “Microsoft technical department,” tries to convince Holzman that he works for a company that is a legitimate Microsoft support partner.
“Let me show you who we are,” the scammer says, opening up Google.com and typing SB3 Inc. Clicking on the first result brings up sb3inc[dot]com, which proudly displays an icon in the upper right corner of its home page stating that it is a Microsoft Certified Partner. “This is our mother company. Can you see that we are a Microsoft certified partner?”
When Holzman replies that this means nothing and that anyone can just put a logo on their site saying they’re associated with Microsoft, the scammer runs a search on Microsoft.com for SB3. The scammer shows true chutzpah when he points to the first result, which — if clicked — leads to a page on Microsoft’s community site where members try to warn the poster away from SB3 as a scam.
When Holzman tries to get the scammer to let him load the actual search result link about SB3 on Microsoft.com, the caller closes the browser window and proceeds to enable the SysKey utility on Windows, which allows the scammer to set a secret master password that must be entered before the computer will boot into Windows (effectively an attempt at locking Holzman out of his test computer if he tries to reboot).
The video goes on for some time more, but I decided to look more closely at SB3. The Web site registration records for the company state that it is based in New Jersey, and it took less than a minute to find the Facebook page of the company’s owner — a Suvajit “Steve” Basu in Ridgewood, NJ. Basu’s Facebook feed has him traveling the world, visiting the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the Ryder Cup in 2012, and more recently taking delivery on a brand new Porsche.
Less than 24 hours after reaching out to him on Facebook and by phone, Basu returns my call and says he’s working to get to the bottom of this. Before I let him go, I tell Basu that I can’t find on Microsoft’s Partner Site any evidence to support SB3’s claim that it is a Microsoft Certified Partner. Basu explains that while the company at one time was in fact a partner, this stopped being the case “a few months ago.” For its part, Microsoft would only confirm that SB3 is not currently a Microsoft partner of any kind.
Basu explained that Microsoft revoked SB3’s partner status after receiving complaints that customers were being cold-called by SB3 technicians claiming to be associated with Microsoft. “Microsoft had gotten complaints and we took out all references to Microsoft as part of our script,” that the company gives to tech support callers, Basu said.
As for why SB3 still falsely claimed to be a Microsoft Partner, Basu said his instructions to take the logo down from the site had apparently been ignored by his site’s administrators.
“That was a mistake for which we do take the blame and responsibility,” Basu said in a follow-up email. “We have corrected this immediately on hearing from you and you will no longer find a mention of Microsoft on our SB3Inc Website.”
Basu said SB3 is a legitimate company based in the USA which uses off-shore manpower and expertise to sell tech support services through its iFixo arm, and that the company never participates in the sort of scammy activities depicted in Holzman’s video. Basu maintains that scammers are impersonating the company and taking advantage of its good name, and points to a section of the video where the scammer loads a payment page at support2urpc[dot]com, suggesting that Support to Your PC is the real culprit (the latter company did not return messages seeking comment).
“After viewing your video it is obvious to us that one or more persons out there are misusing our brand and good-will,” Basu wrote.”We feel horrible and feel that along with the unknowing consumers we are also victims. This is corporate identity theft.”
SB3 may well be a legitimate company that is being scammed by the scammers, but if that’s true the company has done itsself and its reputation no favors by falsely stating it is a Microsoft partner. What’s more, complaints about tech support scammers claiming to be from SB3 are numerous and date back more than a year. I find it remarkable that a tech support company with the uncommon distinction of having secured a good name in this line of work would not act more zealously to guard that reputation. Alas, a simple Internet search on the SB3 brand would have alerted the company to these shenanigans.
SB3 has since removed the Microsoft Certified Partner logo from its home page, but the image is still on its server. Running a search on that image at Tineye.com — an extremely useful image search Web site — produces more than 11,700 results. No doubt Microsoft and other scam hunters have used this investigative tool to locate tech support scams, which may explain why support2urpc[dot]com does not appear to include the same image on its site but instead claims association with sites that do.