The downward (dog) spiral: iYogi exposed

Tech support company facing fraud accusations from legitimate security firms, as well as current and former employees

The iYogi story has had more dramatic twists and turns than a Spanish soap opera, and the end is nowhere in sight.

Last week I wrote about a controversy surrounding iYogi, an India-based firm that sells remote support services to consumers and provides white-label support for major vendors.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out how this iYogi mess started in Cringely's own words with "Tech support or extortion? You be the judge." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

The problem? iYogi's less than savory sales tactics. People who called support lines thinking they were getting free -- or at least under-warranty -- support from their vendors were in fact talking to iYogi, which then attempted to upsell them on annual subscriptions for $170 a year. Worse, many people were told their computers had severe problems that did not actually exist.

Brian Krebs, a former Washington Post writer who now operates his own blog, Krebs on Security, tested iYogi himself and discovered that the company was indeed using scare tactics to coerce users into signing up. He wasn't alone.

After that post ran, I immediately heard from a half-dozen Cringesters, all of whom said it happened to them, too. Take this note from I.C., who describes himself as a 62-year-old computer novice, as well as a disabled veteran on a fixed income:

A couple of months ago I went to renew my Webroot anti-virus and -spyware software. When I called, an Indian answered and [said] they would take care of my renewal ... but they [had] tools that were more effective. [T]hey asked me if it was OK if they took control of my computer to do a full scan and stupidly I said yes.

That night I couldn't sleep thinking about what just happened to me, so the next morning I called my credit card company to dispute these charges ... then immediately went into my control panel and deleted what [iYogi] put on my computer ... I wish those investigative shows on TV would get a hold of these stories to let everyone know what to look out for.

But the story gets more interesting. Over at the Krebs on Security blog, reader comments continue to pile up, and not just from users. Take for example this response from Dave Mello, VP of support and services for Kaspersky Lab's North America division. He wrote, in part:

To support their business model, iYogi has purchased key search-engine terms, which causes their links to display prominently in search-engine queries for Kaspersky Lab support. ... Kaspersky Lab has never engaged in any sort of formal business relationship with iYogi ... but we regularly encounter customers who have expressed frustration with iYogi. In most cases these customers were under the impression that they were receiving support from a Kaspersky Lab employee or an authorized Kaspersky Lab representative. The impression we are given from customer claims is that they were asked to pay very expensive fees without obtaining a positive result.

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