Scammers allegedly tried to fleece users of Alexa and Echo gadgets.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon is pushing back against an alleged tech support scam that the company says targeted its Alexa and Echo device customers through phony Alexa apps and websites.

In a civil lawsuit Amazon filed in federal court in Seattle last week, the company said an international ring in Washington state and India developed a scheme to draw in people looking to set up their new Alexa devices. Once customers downloaded the fake Amazon-branded apps, they were prompted to contact a customer support number and could be charged $150 for useless protection plans, Amazon said.

“Amazon works hard to protect our customers, and the blatant misuse of our brand to deceive unsuspecting customers setting up their new device is appalling,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, the two apps and most of the websites mentioned in the suit were deactivated, so much of the alleged scam may already be shut down. 

Amazon provides Alexa device setup for free, primarily through its own Alexa mobile app. The developer name for that app is AMZN Mobile LLC on the Apple App Store and Amazon Mobile LLC in the Google Play Store. Setup instructions are also included with Echo devices Amazon sells. Meanwhile, the allegedly bogus apps were developed by “Smart Home Expert.”

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Screenshots of the fake error popups in the alleged scammers’ mobile apps.


Amazon

Amazon alleges that the scam was being run by two entities that market themselves as tech support companies: Robojap Technologies, based in Covington, Washington, and Quatic Software Solutions, based in Punjab, India.

Neither Robojap nor Quatic responded to requests for comment. Quatic’s website listed in the lawsuit is no longer online, but the suit says Robojap manages Quatic. “Setup Guide for Echo” and “Echo Setup Instructions & Guide,” two mobile apps on the Google Play Store that these companies allegedly used to lure in customers, were no longer available on that app store.

Robojap, whose website is still accessible, has a “D+” rating from the Better Business Bureau, which logged four customer complaints against the company in the last year.

Amazon didn’t say in the suit how many customers have been affected by the alleged scam, but it mentioned that it’s received “a number of complaints about Robojap misleading victims into believing they are affiliated with Amazon, and selling them unwanted services.” Amazon also declined to say whether it’ll pursue criminal charges.

The suit is part of Amazon’s years-long effort to snuff out scams against its customers and its businesses, which has included suits involving alleged counterfeit goods and schemes on Amazon’s Kindle e-book publishing services. During the coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has been talking up its efforts to prevent price gouging on its websites, and it’s already suspended nearly 4,000 selling accounts in the US for violating its fair-pricing policies.

The Alexa scam could be thought of a smart-home spin on common tech support schemes, in which scammers will alert customers to fake problems with their devices through pop-ups, paid search results, websites or mobile apps.


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According to Amazon’s lawsuit, the defendants developed fake websites and mobile apps that claimed to help people set up new Alexa devices. However, soon after users clicked to download these apps, they were shown a fake download animation, and then a window would pop up saying an error occurred and asking people to call a toll-free number for help. Amazon said it believes the defendants employed 15 to 20 workers in India for its call center.

When someone called the number provided, an alleged tech support worker would take remote control of that person’s computer, claim there were technical issues with the device and then try to sell the victim a protection package to fix the issues, Amazon said.

An investigator working for Amazon called a number provided by the defendants and was charged $150 for a protection plan that included a firewall service that didn’t work, Amazon said.

Amazon accused the defendants of trademark and other violations, and asked for damages.

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