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Software scam artist Kristy Ross has been fined $163 million by U.S. authorities for running an unscrupulous "scareware" operation. The Federal Trade Commission had been following Ross since 2008 in hopes of closing in on her dealings and the judgment includes six others involved in her illicit scheme.
Ross is believed to be the mind behind nefarious "utilities" like WinAntiVirus, Winfixer, FreeRepair, DriveCleaner and System Doctor. These applications would pose as legitimate utilities, but led unsuspecting users to falsely believe their PCs were suffering from critical system issues like virus infections. The programs would then offer to solve those imaginary problems for a one-time fee – an amount typically between $40 and $60. The FTC described Ross' scamware approach as "elaborate" and "technologically sophisticated".
The FTC article, "Free Security Scan" Could Cost Time and Money, explains how these types of scams work.
The hefty $163 million fine is largely due to the massive proliferation of aforementioned scamware. The imposter utilities managed to snatch over one million paying customers – yep, one million – who believed buying Ross' software would help alleviate their purported PC problems. In addition to the fine, Ross has also been barred from selling certain types of computer software and is now prohibited from engaging in deceptive marketing.
In the past, criminal outfits busted for similar antics have been forced to return a portion of their ill-gotten gains. The FCC cites Marc D'Souza's family-run malware operation as an example: they were ordered to repay $8.2 million of their revenue to victims in 2011.