Office Depot to Pay $35 Million for PC Malware Scam
Office Depot, which ranks 14th on Dealerscope’s forthcoming Top 101 CE Retailers list in 2019, along with a California-based tech support software provider that it did business with, were ordered to pay a total of $35 million to settle a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That complaint, which was filed earlier this week, alleged that the companies used malware detection software to trick customers into buying millions of dollars worth of computer repair and technical services.
Office Depot will fork over $25 million while its software supplier, Support.com, will come up with the additional $10 million. The FTC said it intends to use those funds to provide refunds to duped consumers.
Per the complaint, Office Depot and Support.com worked together for nearly a decade, using a software program called PC Health Check to scan consumers’ computers for potential malware and other technical problems. The service, which was marketed as a free “PC check up,” was used as a way to get customers to purchase repair services from Office Depot and OfficeMax, Inc., which merged with Office Depot in 2013.
Support.com, which reportedly received tens of millions of dollars in revenue from Office Depot, would remotely perform the tech repair services once consumers made the purchase.
What the FTC alleged, though, is that while Office Depot claimed the program could detect malware symptoms on a customers computer, the actual results presented to the consumer were based entirely on whether they answered “yes” to one of the four questions they were presented with at the beginning of the PC Health Check program. Those questions included things like whether their computer ran slow, received virus warnings, crashed often, or displayed pop-up ads or other problems that prevented them from browsing the Internet.
Despite having no connection to the “malware symptoms” results, a “yes” answer would still present the consumer with recommended services at the end of the scan, which included detailed descriptions of tech services the customer was encouraged to purchase. Those services, according to the FTC, could cost upwards of several hundred dollars at a time.
The PC Health Check program was active dating as far back as 2009, according to the complaint, and was available until it was shut down in November 2016—and that’s despite the companies having knowledge of consumer (and employee) concerns about the program since at least 2012.
“Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats,” FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “This case should send a strong message to companies that they will face stiff consequences if they use deception to trick consumers into buying costly services they may not need.”
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