Symantec partner caught running tech support scam

Scam definition
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Brazen scheme charged consumers five times the list price for Norton security software; Symantec has terminated the partnership

Tech support scammers are known for their cheek -- making unfounded claims that PCs are infected to scare consumers into parting with their money -- but a Symantec partner took nerve to a new level, a security company claimed last week.

According to San Jose, Calif.-based Malwarebytes, Silurian Tech Support ran a scam in which its employees, who billed themselves as support technicians, used obscure but harmless entries in Windows' Event Viewer and Task Manager to claim that a PC had been overwhelmed by malware, then leveraged those bogus threats to sell overpriced copies of Symantec's Norton security software and an annual contract for follow-up phone support.

That tactic was a hoary one, often deployed by technical support scammers. So was the resulting outrageously-priced software and "support."

What was unusual about the scam was that the original bait for the scheme -- a browser pop-up -- was designed to look like an alert from Symantec's Norton Antivirus, including displaying the product's logo. More importantly, the scammer was an active Symantec partner, as Malwarebytes' senior security researcher Jerome Segura pointed out in a blog post last week.

Although tech support scammers frequently claim affiliations with the companies whose products they abuse in their cold calls and scary online pop-ups, it's rare that an actual partner with an established relationship dare pull such stunts.

Last year, for example, Microsoft sued Customer Focus Services, alleging that a web of the California company's sites -- including omnitechsupport.com, fixnow.us and techsupportpro.com -- shilled phony Windows support and tried to look legitimate by displaying Microsoft logos on its website. But Consumer Focus was not a Microsoft partner.

As part of a settlement Microsoft reached with Consumer Focus in December, a federal court slapped an injunction on the latter, forbidding it to use Microsoft's trademarks.

Symantec confirmed today that Silurian was a partner. "While we can't say conclusively who was behind this particular scam, we can confirm that this particular site has been taken down and that we are also in the process of terminating our partner agreement with Silurian," wrote Noah Edwardsen, a Symantec spokesman, in an email reply to questions.

As Edwardsen said -- and Segura noted last week -- Silurian's website was offline. Cached copies of the site, however, remained available from both Google and Bing. Those cached pages trumpeted pricey phone support for Microsoft's free Web-based email service, Hotmail ($200 for 6 months) and spelled out a refund policy that stated a customer would receive no refund, for any reason, if Silurian had resolved one or more issues previously.

Silurian's prices for its Norton Antivirus pitch were scandalous: $199 for a one-time problem fix and remote installation of the software, or $249 for a one-year support plan, including Norton Antivirus.

At list price, Norton Standard Security for Windows -- which includes antivirus protection -- currently costs $40 for a one-year subscription, or $80 for two years. As part of a subscription, Symantec offers live-chat or telephone-based support.

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