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Office Depot rigged PC malware scans to sell unneeded $ 300 tech support

 Illustration of a computer warning that says

Getty Images | eriksvoboda

Office Depot and a partner company tricked into buying unneeded tech support services by offering PC scans that gave fake results, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers paid up to $ 300 each for unnecessary services.

The FTC announced today that Office Depot and its software supplier, Support.com, have agreed to pay a total of $ 35 million in settlements with the agency. Office Depot agreed to pay $ 25 million while Support.com wants to pay the other $ 1

0 million.

Between 2009 and 2016, Office Depot and OfficeMax offered their scans inside their stores using a "PC Health Check" application created and licensed by Support.com

"Defendants have unsuspecting consumers out of the millions of dollars of their use of the PC Health Check program," the FTC alleged in a complaint that accuses both companies violating the FTC Act's prohibition against deceptive practices.

The FTC filed its complaint against the companies in US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, while at the same time unveiling the settlements with each company.

19659008] "Infections" found on brand-new PCs

KIRO 7 in Seattle aired an exposé on the practice in November 2016. The news station found that it had never been connected to the Internet.

The stores offered PC Health Check scans for free, claiming the value of the scans between $ 20 and $ 60. But PC Health Checks were not affected by any scan, according to the FTC. At the beginning of each scan, consumers were asked if they experienced PC problems such as repeated crashes or slowness.

"[W] hile Office Depot claims the program detected malware symptoms on consumers' computers who answered at the beginning of the PC Health Check program, "the FTC said.

Obviously, a PC user who brings a computer to "These are the questions that have been raised." a store for a malware scan is likely to become a problem, and thus likely to be one of those boxes. PC Health Check "tricked those consumers into thinking their computers."

PC Health Check "tricked those consumers into thinking their computers had symptoms of malware or actual 'infections,' even though the scan did not find any such issues, "the FTC said in a blog post." Many consumers who got false scan results from Office Depot and OfficeMax That cost up to $ 300. "

 Screenshot from Office Depot's PC scanning program.

Screenshot from Office Depot's PC scanning program.


Office Depot and OfficeMax merged in 2013. Even before the merger, both were using Support.com, which provides "cloud-based software and technical support services" directly to consumers and through clients looking for office supply retailers, the FTC said

Software provided limited "optimizations"

Office Depot "tech experts" said that PC Health Check would "optimize" their computers, but in reality the software "did not run diagnostics on consumers' computers," the FTC said.

After displaying fake scan results to who had checked any of the four boxes, PC Health Check "so displayed

In some cases, store employees checked the boxes themselves, ensuring that the software would produce a warning, the FTC complaint said. "Defendants trained Office Depot and OfficeMax store to use the PC Health Check Program and instructed staff to check any of the initial checkbox statements.

FTC: Office Depot disregarded complaints

The companies were

"For example, one OfficeMax employee complained to corporate management in 2012, saying 'I can not justify being a customer or being TRICKED into lying to them for our store to make a few extra dollars, '"the FTC alleged.

In May 2013, OfficeMax warned its stores not to use the PC Health Check Program after customers received a "repair." OfficeMax claims to have been asked to do so, "the FTC complaint said.

The Florida Attorney General's office informed Office Depot of complaints about its tech support services in 2013. In 2014, Office Depot store suggested that the company reconfigure PC Health Check "so it does not come back with false positive and / or diag + repair every time, "and the suggestion was escalated to corporate management. Another employee complaint was escalated to Office Depot Management and Support.com in 2015, according to the FTC.

"Despite these grievances and concerns, the Office Depot Companies instructed its employees to continue to advertise the free tune-up service, continue to run PC Health Check Program on computer brought into the stores, and to convert PC Health Check runs into tech support service sales, "the FTC alleged.

Stores censured for not meeting sales goals [19659009] Employees who pushed the scans had "positive performance reviews" and "extra commissions" if they were "with their PC health check runs and tech support service sales goals," the FTC said. "At the same time, the Office Depot companies censured store managers and store employees who have failed to meet those company-wide targets." Their stores were out of service. "

When Office Depot found additional revenue," PC Health Check services into tech-service sales, "the FTC said.

In November 2016, Office Depot suspended its use of PC Health Check after KIRO 7 "Aired A Series of Investigative Reports on the Washington, DC, Oregon Office Depot Stores that were flagging malware on computers that were brand new and straight out of the box," the FTC said.

Instead of providing assurances that Office Depot would not continue the practice, "the senior manager at the Office Depot is most responsible for procuring tech support The same PC health check to consumers even after the KIRO 7 news report, "the FTC said. Office Depot finally severed its relationship with Support.com in 2017, but the office chain bought another tech-support company and is now continuing to provide computer repair services.

The FTC said the settlement prohibits Office Depot "from making misrepresentations about the security or performance of a consumer's electronic device and the company to ensure its existing and future software providers do not engage in such conduct." The settlement requires Office Depot to submit to compliance monitoring. Support.com faces similar provisions in its settlement with the FTC.

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