Argo Marketing sues iYogi in advance of Washington state suit

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LEWISTON — A tech support company sued by Washington state Wednesday for allegedly installing spyware on customers’ computers was sued by a local call center operator weeks ago for a different reason: The company didn’t pay the call center for services, Argo Marketing CEO Jason Levesque said Thursday.

Levesque said he filed suit against iYogi on Dec. 2 in New York state Supreme Court, claiming the international company did not pay Lewiston-based Argo Marketing $72,967 for call center services.

“The emails I have, which we submitted as evidence, said they were going to pay us,” Levesque said. “They said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to pay you. You did everything great.’ Well, OK then, please pay us.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a suit in King County Court on Wednesday alleging the India-based tech support company convinced an unknown number of Washington state consumers to buy unnecessary software for upgrades, scamming … “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Washingtonians …” for up to $540 each.

The state may seek up to $2,000 in civil penalties for each violation of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and $100,000 per violation of its Computer Spyware Act.

In an email statement, iYogi founder and CEO Vishal Dhar called the allegations baseless.

“iYogi has attained its industry leadership by being customer focused and value driven, and our service is successful because it addresses a genuine need,” Dhar said in the emailed statement. “We recognize that tech support frauds are a real issue in the U.S., and as a responsible industry leader, we have been working with authorities in both countries to counter the issue.”

Levesque announced a partnership with iYogi in July, with plans to hire 300 dedicated Lewiston call center workers once a pilot program was finished. Maine Gov. Paul LePage attended the announcement, along with city officials and local economic development promoters.

Levesque said Argo hired 30 people to work with iYogi, but the pilot program was never completed. Those 30 people have been moved into other campaigns, he said. There will be no layoffs at Argo, Levesque said, but the 300 new employees will not be hired.

“Have we replaced that revenue we lost during the pilot program? Yes,” Levesque said. “Have we found a client to hire 300 people in a dedicated environment? No. And frankly, we probably won’t see something like that in the future.”

In his emailed statement, Dhar said he still sees Maine as an important part of iYogi’s operation.

“In the second quarter of next year, we plan to relaunch our sales and support programs out of the U.S., along with more aggressive on-ground marketing programs, including Direct Response Television,” Dhar wrote. “We chose Maine for its talent, and it still remains our first choice.”

iYogi spokesperson Garima Misra Punia said the company is investigating other call centers in Maine.

“Our relationship with Argo is over, but the announcement we made in July talked about outsourcing to Maine, and creating jobs in the state,” Punia wrote in an email. “Argo may not be the right partner for that, but we remain committed to the state, and will follow through on our commitment, the best we can.”

iYogi was founded in 2007 by Dhar in New Delhi. It provided telephone tech support to computer users in the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.

Argo was hired to take calls from people in the Eastern U.S. and the U.K. interested in buying the iYogi service. Once customers bought iYogi subscriptions, they were transferred to a New Delhi-based call center for tech support.

The Washington state suit alleges that is when the company broke the law, scanning customers’ computers and convincing them to buy expensive upgrades to remove nonexistent computer viruses and perform unnecessary computer maintenance.

In some cases, that involved highlighting benign but complex computer files as malware or infected computer files, according to the suit.

In others, iYogi employees told customers they would receive the Windows 10 upgrade for free if they bought a five-year contract, claiming the upgrade would cost $199 elsewhere, according to the suit. Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade was free for all users of Windows 7 and 8.

Martha Currier, complaint examiner in the consumer protection division of the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said she did not know of any complaints filed in Maine.

“It does not mean Maine consumers have not been impacted,” she said. “When someone calls us to complain, we send them a form. If they don’t return the form, we don’t consider it a filed complaint. So as far as we are concerned, there are no formal complaints. Some may have resolved it on their own or given up, but they did not file it with us.”

Levesque said he had not been aware of the Washington state allegations.

“In this country, you are still innocent until proven guilty,” Levesque said. “We never logged in to anything like that, so I can’t comment on it. They could have, but I find it highly unlikely for any company of that size, with their financial backers, to do anything so intentionally wrong. I find it very odd.”

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