The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has hit Office Depot with a $25 million fine for its part in an expansive scheme to trick customers into paying for oftentimes unnecessary computer repairs. Office Depot used software provided by Support.com to in effect lie to customers about the existence of viruses and malware on their computers.
According to the FTC report, Office Depot stores used software called PC Health Check, which was supplied by Support.com. Office Depot offered up the software as a free tool that would tell a customer if their system was compromised by malware. However, according to the FTC, the PC Health Check software presented customers with a “No Win Scenario”, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek.
The software asked customers to check one or more boxes if their PC 1) experienced frequent pop-ups, 2) had become unbearably slow to use, 3) had received a message about a virus infection or 4) experienced frequent crashes. However, no matter which option customers selected, the software would tell them that their system was in infected with malware even though it was not even configured to make such a diagnosis.
The FTC writes:
After displaying the results of the scan, the program also displayed a “view recommendation” button with a detailed description of the tech services consumers were encouraged to purchase—services that could cost hundreds of dollars—to fix the problems.
Complaints about PC Health Check began dating back to 2012, but the software not removed from circulation by Office Depot until 2016. “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.”
For its part in providing the offending PC Health Check software to Office Depot and receiving millions in dollars in revenue as a result, the FTC also hit Support.com with a fine of $10 million.