Anti-virus company Avast has cut ties with a third party support operator after its employees were caught defrauding users with claims of fake malware installations.
iYogi phone support officers were said to have identified false infections in user computers in order to hawk a fraudulent inflated version of Avast' legitimate premium services.
The contact centre operators were independently caught-out by both Avast and security blogger Brian Krebs.
Users were offered to upgrade to iYogi's remote support service following the resolution of issues, but it was claimed iYogi representatives attempted to increase sales of the premium service by falsely identifying non-existent issues on users' computers.
Krebs said he called the support line listed on Avast's site, and an iYogi representative asked him for a phone number and an email address, and permission to gain remote control of his computer.
“He directed me to use Internet Explorer to visit a website that requested permission to install two ActiveX add-ons. Those add-ons installed a remote control client called Bomgar Support,” Krebs said.
“He asked if I had previously installed any anti-virus software, and I said I wasn't sure (I hadn't). He then fired up the Windows Registry Editor (regedit), poked around some entries, and then opened up the Windows System Configuration Utility (msconfig) and the Windows Event Viewer. He somberly read aloud a few of the entries in the event viewer marked with yellow exclamation points, saying they were signs that my computer could have a problem. He then switched over to the ‘services' panel of the system-configuration tool and noted that the ‘manufacturer' listing next to Avast anti-virus read ‘unknown'.”
Krebs said the representative offered to resolve the issues if Krebs bought a support package, costing £108 and available for one- to three-year terms, and told him that the problems would take a week to be corrected by Avast, but could be resolved immediately upon payment to iYogi.
Avast chief executive officer Vince Steckler said in a statement published on the company blog that iYogi would no longer provide the free two-year customer phone support offer.
We had initial reports of this behaviour a few weeks ago and met with iYogi's senior executives to ensure the behaviour was being corrected.
"The behaviour that Krebs describes is unacceptable ... Thus we were shocked to find out about Krebs' experience."
“As a consequence, we have removed the iYogi support service from our website and shortly it will be removed from our products. We believe that this type of service, when performed in a correct manner, provides immense value to users. As such, over the next weeks, we will work with iYogi to determine whether the service can be re-launched.”
In a letter published on Krebs' blog, Larry Gordon, iYogi's president of global channel sales, called the investigation "a Tylenol moment for iYogi and the leadership team".
Saying that the comments "provide iYogi with opportunity", Gordon added that creating a market and meeting consumer demand for subscription-based services required an innovative marketing approach, so it followed a "serve to sell" model of free trial followed by the upselling of the paid-for service.
“We market to consumers through the internet and partner with high-growth technology companies like Avast. While technology in some respects is becoming simpler and easier to use, in some cases and for some people it has become more complex.
“Despite the recent turn of events, we believe that this model is a perfect complement for the major freemium anti-virus player and has enhanced their brand's engagement with this group of consumers. This view is endorsed by the customer satisfaction scores for Avast customers over the last nine months that show over 95 per cent of the respondents are satisfied, with a large majority being extremely satisfied (84 per cent). Four per cent are not satisfied and we need to do a better job with them, and will figure out how to fine-tune the agent sales process even further. The technical process has not been a question.”