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Regulators from five countries – including the Australian Communications and Media Authority – have joined together in an operation to crackdown on a series of companies said to have orchestrated one of the most widespread Internet scams of the decade, the SMH reports.

Investigation of the scam began following an alert by ACMA, which reported more than 10,0000 complaints from Australian citizens, beginning in 2009. In the US, the Federal Telecommunications Commission said hundreds of thousands of consumers may have been duped by the scam operators.

Representatives of the FTC, ACMA and a Canadian authority, as well as a Microsoft executive, yesterday held a press conference to announce the clampdown. Ireland, New Zealand and UK authorities were also involved.

The team said their investigations had targeted 14 companies and 17 individuals, many based in India. In the course of the crackdown, US authorities have so far frozen US$188,000 in assets, but expect to claim much more.

Operators of the scam had bilked consumers by pretending to be tech support operators. They would ring intended victims, claiming to work for major technology companies, such as Microsoft or Google, and telling them they had viruses on their PCs.

The callers would attempt to dupe Windows PC users into giving them remote access to their computers, locking the user out while attempting to “fix” the malware.

Most users were charged between US$49 and $450 to remove the non-existent malware. In Australia, the scammers made an estimated A$85 from each successful scam.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said assets of the scammers had been frozen and could be distributed to victims once they are identified, but he warned it’s rare to get 100 percent back in restitution.

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