Office Depot and a partner company tricked customers into purchasing unnecessary technical support services by offering PC scanning that yielded false results, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers paid up to $ 300 for unnecessary services.
Yesterday, the FTC announced that Office Depot and the program vendor, Support.com, had agreed to pay a total of $ 35 million in settlements with the agency. Office Depot agrees to pay $ 25 million while Support.com pays the other $ 1
Between 2009 and 2016, Office Depot and OfficeMax offered data scans in their stores using a PC Health Check program created and licensed by Support.com.
"The defendant believed unsuspecting consumers out of tens of millions of dollars from their use of the PC Health Check program to sell expensive diagnostic and repair services," the FTC claimed in a complaint accusing both companies of breaking the FTC's prohibition of misleading practice. As part of the settlements, none of the companies have admitted or denied the FTC's claims.
The FTC sent the complaint against the companies in the US District Court for the southern district of Florida, while revealing the settlements with each company. 19659008] "Infections" found on brand new PCs
KIRO 7 in Seattle sent an exhibition on the exercise in November 2016. The news station found that Office Depot stores claimed to find infections in new computers that had never been connected to the Internet.
Stores are offered PC Health Check scans for free, while the claim of the value of the scan was between $ 20 and $ 60. But PC Health Check was set up to tell consumers that their computers were infected, no matter which scan showed, according to the FTC . At the beginning of each scan, consumers were asked if they experienced PC problems such as repeated crashes or slowness. Any yes answer in this survey guaranteed that the program would flag a problem with the user's computer.
"[W] Hile Office Depot claimed that the program detected malware symptoms on consumer computers, the actual results presented to consumers were entirely based on whether consumers answered yes to four questions they were asked at the beginning of PC Health Check the program, the FTC said. "These included questions about whether the computer ran slow-received virus alerts, crashed frequently, or showed pop-up ads or other issues that prevented the user from browsing the Internet."
Clearly, a PC user who brings one computer to a store for a malware scan probably suspects it is a problem, and thus likely to check one of these boxes.If a box was checked, the software mistakenly told that PC scans found "malware symptoms" or "infections", even if computers were not infected, according to the FTC.
PC Health Check "tricked consumers into thinking about their computers had symptoms of harmful prog. framework or actual infections, although the scan had not found such problems, the FTC said in a blog post. "Many consumers who received false scan results purchased computer diagnostics and repair services from Office Depot and OfficeMax which cost up to $ 300. Suppport.com completed the services and got a cut on each purchase."
Office Depot and OfficeMax merged in 2013. Even before the merger used both Support.com, which offers "cloud-based software and technical support services
Software provided limited" optimizations "
Office Depot" technical experts " told customers that PC Health Check would "optimize" their computers, but in reality the software did not run complete diagnostics on the consumer's computers, said the FTC. Some later versions of the software did some "limited optimizations … like removing junk files and reconfiguring certain settings . "
After showing false scan results to consumers who had checked some of the four boxes, PC Health Check" was also shown a "display recommendation" button with a detailed description of the technical services that consumers were asked to buy services that could cost hundreds of dollars to solve the problems. "
In some cases, employees made the checks themselves and guaranteed that the software would give a warning, said the FTC complaint." Defendant trained Office Depot and OfficeMax store employees on how to use the PC Health Check program and instructed employees in the store for Checking some of the first boxes used based on the consumer's answer, "said the complaint." In accordance with their training, Office Depot and OfficeMax store employees read each of the first boxes when they started and chose the corresponding box based on the consumer's response
FTC: Office Depot Ignored Complaints
Companies were aware of complaints for years, but continued to use the deceptive software to trick consumers, the FTC said.
"An OfficeMax employee complained, for example, to business management in 2012 and said, "I can't justify lying to a customer or being TRICKED in lying to them for our store to make some extra bucks," FTC says. "Despite this and other internal warnings, Office Depot continued until the end of 2016 to advertise and use the PC Health Check program and pushed its major executives and employees to generate sales from the program."
In May 2013, OfficeMax warned its stores not to use the PC Health Check Program after customers received a "repair". OfficeMax explained to the stores that if "any of the questions at the beginning of [PC Health Check Program] are checked, it will automatically propose a software repair," because "the tool" assumes "there is an infection based on questions asked" FTC complaint said.
The Florida law firm informed Office Depot of complaints about its technical support services in 2013. In 2014, an Office Depot warehouse manager suggested that the company reconfigure PC Health Check so that it does not return with false positives and / or Diag + Repair each time , "and the proposal escalated to corporate management. Another workforce was escalated to the Office Depot management and Support.com in 2015, according to the FTC.
"Despite these complaints and concerns, Office Depot Companies instructed its store employees to continue advertising the free startup service, continue running the PC Health Check Program on computers brought into the stores, and to convert 50 percent or more of all PCs Health Check goes into technical support service sales, "the FTC alleged.
Stores censured for failing to meet sales targets  Employees who pushed the scan received "positive performance ratings" and "extra commissions" if they "met their weekly PC Health Check races and technical support sales targets," the FTC said. "At the same time, Office Depot companies censored store managers and saved employees who continually failed to meet these goals across the enterprise." Stores that failed to meet their goals were exposed to "underperforming" conversations with store managers who told their store's performances. "
When Office Depot searched for additional revenue, they instructed their stores collectively to make millions of dollars in profits by increasing the number of PC Health Check services performed and the frequency of converting PC Health Check services into technical service sales.
In November 2016, Office Depot suspended the use of PC Health Check after KIRO 7 in November 2016, "sent a series of investigative reports on the technical service divisions of the Office Depot stores in Washington and Oregon that flag malicious software or malware symptoms on computers that was unknown to the stores, brand new and straight out of the box, "FTC said.
Instead of providing assurances that Office Depot would not continue the exercise," senior manager of the Office Depot companies primarily responsible for providing technical support Suppliers testified under oath that it would be right for the company to continue offering the same PC Health Check to consumers even after KIRO 7 news reports n, says FTC. Office Depot finally closed its relationship with Support.com in 2017, but the office chain bought another tech support company and continues to provide data services and sell repair services.
The FTC said the settlement prohibits Office Depot "from making inaccurate information about the security or performance of a consumer electronic device and requires the company to ensure that existing and future software vendors do not engage in such behavior." Settlement requires Office Depot to comply with compliance. Support.com faces similar provisions in its settlement with the FTC.