2 min read

Office Depot fined millions for tricking customers into believing their PCs were infected with malware

Graham CLULEY

March 28, 2019

Ad One product to protect all your devices, without slowing them down.
Free 90-day trial
Office Depot fined millions for tricking customers into believing their PCs were infected with malware

What does the average person do when their computer starts behaving oddly? If their PC is getting slower, or they’re being pestered with an excessive number of pop-ups?

The average user – and you, dear reader, are not a typical user because you demonstrate your wisdom by reading the Hot for Security blog – probably takes their troublesome computer to a big-name retailer like Office Depot, to take advantage of a free “PC Health Check.”

Unfortunately, the bad news is that since at least 2012 consumers have been making complaints that Office Depot, and its partner Support.com, have been using the PC Health Check tune-up service as a way to trick people into buying unnecessary computer repair and technical services.

In 2016, for instance, we reported how an undercover TV news team took freshly-purchased computers that had never been connected to the internet, and had been verified as malware-free by security experts to Office Depot.

Office Depot determined that the computers required up to $180 worth of repairs due to malware infections.

Staff running the “free PC Health Check” ran a program on users’ PCs which asked a simple question:

Does your computer have any of the problems below?

The question was accompanied by four choices:

[ ] Frequent pop-ups or other problems prevent me from browsing the internet.

[ ] My PC recently became much slower or is too slow to use.

[ ] I am often warned of a virus infection or I am asked to pay for virus removal.

[ ] My PC frequently crashes.

Choosing any of these options meant that the program’s report would inform the PC’s owner that their computer had a malware infection – even if there was no other evidence.

Not all staff felt comfortable about the practice. For instance, one 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.”

And yet still the deception went on, even after Support.com – alongside partner AOL – was fined US $8.5 million in 2013 for similar shenanigans.

Following mounting negative media coverage, Office Depot finally announced it was suspending its PC tune-up service while it conducted its own investigation. That wasn’t good enough for some, including a US senator who called on the FTC to hold an independent investigation.

The FTC alleged that Office Depot and Support.com were aware of concerns and complains about the PC Health Check program since at least 2012, but continued to push staff into generating sales through it until late 2016.

This week Office Depot agreed to pay US $25 million to settle the FTC allegations, while its software supplier, Support.com, has agreed to pay US $10 million. The FTC intends to use these funds to provide refunds to consumers.

The typical computer user has a tough enough time avoiding scams on the internet. The behaviour of Office Depot proves that consumers also sadly need to be on their guard when they’re visiting a high street retailer too.

tags


Author



Right now

Top posts

August Spam Debrief: Bitdefender Labs Warns of Fraud Campaigns Exploiting the Russia-Ukraine War

August Spam Debrief: Bitdefender Labs Warns of Fraud Campaigns Exploiting the Russia-Ukraine War

August 31, 2022

4 min read
Snake Keylogger Returns in Malspam Campaign Disguised as Business Portfolio from IT Vendor

Snake Keylogger Returns in Malspam Campaign Disguised as Business Portfolio from IT Vendor

August 30, 2022

2 min read
What is medical identity theft and how to protect against it

What is medical identity theft and how to protect against it

July 27, 2022

2 min read
Curious about Omegle? Here’s how the roulette-style chat platform can threaten your online privacy and security

Curious about Omegle? Here’s how the roulette-style chat platform can threaten your online privacy and security

July 07, 2022

5 min read
Identifying and Dealing with Online Bullying Is Not Impossible - School Presentation Inside

Identifying and Dealing with Online Bullying Is Not Impossible - School Presentation Inside

June 28, 2022

2 min read
Let’s Celebrate World Social Media Day by Improving Your Privacy and Security Online

Let’s Celebrate World Social Media Day by Improving Your Privacy and Security Online

June 28, 2022

3 min read

FOLLOW US ON

SOCIAL MEDIA


You might also like

Prison for ex-eBay staff who aggressively cyberstalked company's critics with Craigslist sex party ads and funeral wreaths Prison for ex-eBay staff who aggressively cyberstalked company's critics with Craigslist sex party ads and funeral wreaths
Graham CLULEY

September 30, 2022

2 min read
Honolulu Man Sabotaged Former Employer’s Network and Business Using Still-Active Credentials Honolulu Man Sabotaged Former Employer’s Network and Business Using Still-Active Credentials
Silviu STAHIE

September 30, 2022

1 min read
North Korean Gang Uses Compromised Open Source Software to Distribute Malware, Researchers Find North Korean Gang Uses Compromised Open Source Software to Distribute Malware, Researchers Find
Silviu STAHIE

September 30, 2022

1 min read