Feds settle with Office Depot over tech support scam
Suspicious software and a big box store’s lack of oversight stuck consumers with millions of dollars in unnecessary services, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC announced Office Depot has settled allegations it duped consumers into buying unnecessary computer repair services with a software program that tricked them into believing malware had corrupted their computers.
Office Depot will pay a $25 million settlement. Its software supplier, Support.com, Inc., will pay another $10 million to close the FTC’s complaint. The complaint alleged the two used a program called PC Health Check to sell dubious computer repair services.
“The FTC alleges that while Office Depot claimed the program detected malware symptoms on consumers’ computers, the actual results presented to consumers were based entirely on whether consumers answered ‘yes’ to four questions they were asked at the beginning of the PC Health Check program,” wrote Claire Wack of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in this news release. “These included questions about whether the computer ran slow, received virus warnings, crashed often or displayed pop-up ads or other problems that prevented the user from browsing the Internet.
“The complaint alleges that Office Depot and Support.com configured the PC Health Check Program to report that the scan found malware symptoms or infections whenever consumers answered yes to at least one of these four questions, despite the fact that the scan had no connection to the ‘malware symptoms’ results. After displaying the results of the scan, the program also displayed a ‘view recommendation’ button with a detailed description of the tech services consumers were encouraged to purchase—services that could cost hundreds of dollars—to fix the problems.”
The FTC claimed Office Depot’s leadership was aware of complaints concerning the software as early as 2012. They include complaints from employees racked with guilt over fooling consumers into paying for services they did not need. “Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “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.”
Lee Cooper, owner of Cooper Systems, your exclusive #WiseChoice for computer sales and repair in the Mid-South, said the FTC’s description of Office Depot’s program mirrors some of the deceptive practices and software his techs have discovered on customers’ devices. “We see many computers every week that have been comprised or hacked,” Cooper said. “Many have worthless or malicious software installed. We’ve also come to the rescue of consumers who were lured in by deceptive methods. Clicking on fake emails is very common. These are emails that on the surface may look like they were sent by a friend or familiar business. On closer inspection, they can be identified as fake. Also, phishing calls from tech support impostors posing as Microsoft or Yahoo employees are too many to count. It is the computer equivalent of being assaulted.”
The FTC said it intends to use Office Depot and Support.com’s settlement funds to reimburse consumers who fell for the hard sell. “While Office Depot does not admit to any wrongdoing regarding the FTC’s allegations, the company believes that the settlement is in its best interest in order to avoid protracted litigation,” wrote Danny Jovic, Office Depot’s senior director of communications, in an email to Wise Choices TM.
“What most surprises me is that a supposedly reputable company would participate in such a scam,” said Cooper. “In our experience, the best way to protect your computer is to have Norton Security software. No anti-virus program is 100% effective, but Norton comes as close to it as I have seen. When we install it for a customer we make certain it is installed and updated properly.”
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