Office Depot and its software supplier, Support.com, have paid $35 million to the FTC over allegations of faked malware reports that tricked customers into paying millions of dollars in computer repairs.
According to the FTC, Office Depot (and Office Max, which merged with Office Depot in 2013) used a program called “PC Health Check,” which claimed to be a free tool offering a check-up to help diagnose if there were any problems or malware plaguing a device.
But instead of running actual malware scans, the FTC says that the program was set to automatically inform customers that they had malware on their devices if they answered yes to any of the four questions about crashes, pop-ups, slow speeds, or viruses. The program would then provide a “view recommendation” prompt, offering tech services from Office Max and Support.com to fix the “problems,” which could cost up to hundreds of dollars.
According to the FTC, Office Depot and Support.com both were aware of complaints about the software going back as far as 2012, but the store still used the software and encouraged employees to advertise it to customers until late 2016.
“Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons in the announcement of the fine. “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.”
As punishment Office Depot has agreed to pay $25 million while Support.com will pay $10 million, which the FTC says it will use to provide refunds to customers. Additionally, the two companies have been prohibited from making “misrepresentations about the security or performance of a consumer’s electronic device” going forward.