Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission announced that office supply giant Office Depot and its software supplier, Support.com, will jointly pay $35 million in refunds to customers wronged with a fake malware scheme.
As reported by Ars Technica, Office Depot and its subsidiary OfficeMax developed a fake “PC Health Check” that would tell customers that their computers had been infected with malware regardless of the computer’s actual status. The program then recommended that customers purchase a repair service that often cost up to $300.
The FTC complaint did not mince words when discussing the mercenary plot in a blog post about the case.
“PC Health Check, a diagnostic scan program created and licensed by Support.com, [tricked consumers] into thinking their computers had symptoms of malware or actual ‘infections,’ even though the scan hadn’t found any such issues. Many consumers who got false scan results bought computer diagnostic and repair services from Office Depot and OfficeMax that cost up to $300. Support.com completed the services and got a cut of each purchase.”
The FTC concluded the blog post in equally strident language.
“Defendants bilked unsuspecting consumers out of tens of millions of dollars from their use of the PC Health Check program to sell costly diagnostic and repair services.”
PC Health Check was available in Office Depot and OfficeMax stores and was advertised as a free scan to diagnose computer issues. However, instead of properly diagnosing the issue, the scan would recommend a repair program based on the consumer’s responses to its questionnaire.
The plot was discovered by the investigative team lead by Jesse Jones at KIRO 7 Seattle, who aired an exposé back in 2016. The team found that in four out of six Office Depots, the Health Check would diagnose brand new computers that had never even been connected the internet as being infected with malware that could “jeopardize data and security.” One technician even claimed that the virus could steal credit card information.
The suggested repair would have cost $180.
To double check the results, the team brought the computers to a computer security company, IOActive, to get their results. IOActive found the computers to be completely clean.
After the exposé aired, Office Depot vowed that there would be a full review and did not condone the “conduct” described in the report.
However, a former Office Depot tech, Shane Barrett, claimed that it was Office Depot itself who pressured employees to run the bogus tests. Barrett claims that when he noticed the checks always came up with the same results, he started refusing to do scans.
As a result, his hours were drastically cut.
Hopefully, Barrett will find solace in the news of the $35 million reparations payment.
“To be honest with you, I’d like to see all the people who’ve had their money taken – — you know, the economy’s tight. Give them their money back. It’s not fair. It’s not fair,” he had said at the time.