The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that Office Depot, along with a tech support firm, must come up with $35 million to settle a lawsuit over claims that both organizations were part of a computer repair service scam, which involved a fake malware scan.
In the FTC complaint, it was stated that Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Support.com ran a program called PC Health Check. This program is designed to search for malware on a customer’s computer. However, it actually doesn’t quite do that. Instead, it gives the customer a questionnaire, and then it uses the answers given by the respondent to flag some malware…even though malware might not have even been on the computer.
Some of the questions asked by the PC Health Check program included asking if the computer was slow, if it had a lot of pop-up ads, or if it crashed a lot. When the person clicked “yes,” to these questions, the software prompted them to buy fixes for the issues, which could cost hundreds of dollars.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that Office Depot and OfficeMax told their store employees to run PC Health Check on every computer that was brought into the store. In total, it is estimated that there were tens of millions of dollars lost in this scam.
On top of this, it is alleged that this scheme went on from 2009 until late 2016. It was only stopped when KIRO 7, a CBS-affiliate, began looking into it after viewers started reporting complaints about the program. Employees were also upset, and the FTC shared an incident from 2012 in its report. It said that an employee complained to upper management and said that they could not keep “lying to a customer” or be subject to being “tricked into lying” just so their store could “make a few extra dollars.”
If all of this wasn’t enough, the complaint also alleges that Office Depot advised its stores to never run a PC Health Check on any computer that had been repaired, because the program would still report malware, even though there was none on the machine. In other words, Office Depot knew that the program would flag malware even if there wasn’t malware on the computer.
Because of this scam, Office Depot will have to pay $25 million and Support.com must pay $10 million to settle with the FTC. The agency says that it will use the money to repay people who were victims of this scheme. Joe Simons, FTC Chairman, said in a statement that this should “send a strong message” to any other companies that might be considering this type of deception to trick people into buying services that they might not really need.
Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.