Fort Myers tech-support company accused of deception in ‘tech-trap’ investigation
Just before 10 on an otherwise typical workday in May 2017, employees on the second flood of an office complex off Metro Parkway had some unexpected visitors.
The Fort Myers police department assisted federal and state authorities in a raid of the offices of Vylah Tech, a technical support company. The company’s assets were frozen by court order and all control of it was handed over to a receiver.
“We were completely wrongfully accused in this whole thing,” said Angelo Cupo, who founded the company with his father.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorneys General targeted Cupo’s business as part of a joint investigation dubbed: Operation Tech Trap.
The FTC joined forces with Attorneys General in four states to stop alleged deceptive technical support practices.
Vylah-Tech, and affiliated companies, is accused of using deceptive pop up advertising instructing customers that their computers have been infected with a virus, and to call an 800 number for support.
The company is also accused of deceiving customers who had pre-paid technical support services as part of packages bought with new devices.
Those customers told the FTC that when they called for help setting up their devices, they were incorrectly informed that their computers were infected with viruses and would need to purchase additional software.
Cupo and his attorney said those allegations are not true and feel the government is wrongly destroying a family run business.
He did admit to hiring a private vendor at one time to use pop-up advertising, but said there was nothing deceptive in the content of those messages.
He claimed their entire business model has since shifted, and in recent years they did not use pop-up advertising at all. His attorney said employees did not engage in deception over the phone.
Cupo feels the court appointed receiver for the company, who is supposed to run the company while the case is ongoing, is running his company into the ground.
The phone number for Vyla Tech still rings to an automated answering service with no indication that the company is shut down or being run by a receiver.
A notice to contact the receiver, a Miami-based public accounting firm, is posted on the locked door of the office suite once occupied by Vylah-Tech.
“When the person is punished before they even have the chance to defend themselves, that’s where the real problem comes in,” said Cynthia Crawford, an attorney for the Cause of Action Institute, who is now representing the Cupo family.
Crawford filed a federal appeal to have assets of the business and the family members connected to the business unfrozen. In March, the court issued an order releasing some personal assets of family members.
In the government’s response to that appeal, documents indicate that the receiver in charge of taking over Vyla Tech felt there was no way to run the business at a profit without engaging in deceptive practices.
Nicole Waide, a former federal prosecutor who is not connected to this case in any way, said the receiver is allowed to stop operating the business if the only way to run it is to use illegal methods.
“Normally you’d be notifying customers if that was the case, so I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in this situation,” said Waide.
She said the government’s intent in freezing assets and putting a company into receivership is to preserve money that may have been illegally obtained from customers, so ultimately it can be returned to those people.
The receiver did not respond to an email from WINK News.
The Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission could not discuss an ongoing case.