What just happened? Office Depot and its software supplier, Support.com, have agreed to pay a total of $35 million for allegedly using fake malware scans that convinced customers to pay for repair services.
The settlement is part of a lawsuit brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which claimed both companies and Office Depot subsidiary OfficeMax used a tool called PC Health Check Program to show customers that malware infections had been discovered on a computer when no such problems were present.
The FTC alleges that the software’s results were entirely dependent on whether a customer answered yes to any of the four questions they were asked at the beginning of the program. These included questions about whether the computer ran slow, received virus warnings, crashed often, or displayed pop-up ads. Clicking on ‘yes’ to any of these would result in the scan finding malware. PC Health Check Program also recommended customers purchase repair services, which could exceed $300, to address the problem.
A whistleblower first exposed the alleged misdeeds to Seattle TV station KIRO-TV back in 2016.
“One OfficeMax employee complained to corporate management in 2012, saying 'I cannot justify lying to a customer or being TRICKED into lying to them for our store to make a few extra dollars'," says the FTC press release.
The companies allegedly used the software from 2009 until November 2016. As part of the settlement, Office Depot has agreed to pay $25 million and Support.com will pay $10 million to the FTC. The agency intends to use the money to refund affected customers.
“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.”