Amazon is suing two companies for “widespread tech support fraud,” alleging that they tricked new users of Echo speakers and other Alexa devices into paying for purported technical support through an elaborate ruse designed to convince them they had encountered frustrating technical glitches.
The formal complaint follows a series of earlier legal actions by Amazon against the companies, resulting in the shutdown of most of their apps and sites.
In one example cited in the suit, a purported support technician — speaking on the phone with a user who was actually an Amazon investigator — used a remote connection to the investigator’s computer in a creative attempt to make it look like there was a problem installing Alexa.
“The technician opened the command function, and prompted a simple directory search,” lawyers for Amazon write in the suit. “The perpetrator stated this task would identify the problem. At the conclusion of the search, the perpetrator wrote at the bottom of the dialogue box: ‘Foreign Address Detected . . . IP is not secure . . . Unable to connect Alexa.’ ”
That’s one of several tactics alleged by Amazon in the lawsuit against Robojap Technologies LLC of Covington, Wash., and Quatic Software Solutions Pvt. Ltd. of Punjab, India, and their respective principals.
GeekWire has contacted both companies seeking comment.
According to the complaint, the companies used apps and sites with names such as “Setup Guide for Echo” and “Echo/Alexa Support” to trick users into thinking they were downloading the official Alexa app. An error message would pop up, directing the users to call a support line.
On the support line, the suit says, the technicians would use a variety of techniques to try to convince the callers that they needed to pay $150 for technical support.
In another example cited in the suit, a technician for one of the services allegedly opened a Notepad file on the investigator’s computer to write a different error message, “Alexa failed to download.”
The suit describes what happened after the Amazon investigator signed up for tech support.
“After the agreement was completed, the technician installed a Chrome extension called Geek Shield Pro,” the suit says. “Among other things, this extension falsely purports to provide a firewall. In the firewall section of the extension, an animation shows that the firewall is off. The animation then shows a loading power button that turns green and then states the firewall is on. The extension does not create a firewall.”
Amazon says it shows the evolution of tech support fraud.
“Traditionally, tech support schemes have focused on vulnerabilities in a computer’s operating system or other software as the material misrepresentations made to victims in order to sell fraudulent services,” the complaint says. “Given the rise of connected devices beyond traditional computers — such as Alexa devices — bad actors now target potential victims seeking assistance with these devices.”
The suit, filed May 6 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges trademark infringement, false advertising, cybersquatting and other civil violations, asking the court for a permanent injunction against the companies along with maximum statutory financial damages.
It looks like Amazon Alexa users weren’t the only targets. Amazon’s complaint doesn’t mention this, but we found that one of those companies, Robojap, is the subject of a similar complaint in a Google Nest support thread. We’ve contacted Google seeking comment.
It’s the latest in a series of legal actions by Amazon against companies it claims are using its platforms and brand names in fraudulent schemes, from get-rich-quick scams to fake customer reviews to sales of knock-off products.
The “blatant misuse of our brand to deceive unsuspecting customers setting up their new device is appalling,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. Describing the companies as “an international ring of bad actors,” the spokesperson said the suit “will hold them accountable and help us to further protect our customers from bad actors.”
The company says users of Alexa-enabled devices should download the Alexa app by opening the app store that comes with their device, or via the Amazon Alexa website on their computers.