Office Depot, the No. 2 office supply chain, has agreed to pay $25 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for malware malfeasance.
According to federal watchdogs, Office Depot duped customers into buying millions of dollars worth of unwarranted IT services over a nearly 10-year period. The ploy: offering a complimentary “PC check-up” to unsuspecting customers with the promise of improved performance and a scan for viruses and other security threats.
The check-up was based on PC Health Check, a software program provided by third-party IT service Support.com. But the FCC says the partners configured the program to automatically indicate the presence of malware or infections whenever a customer answered affirmatively to any of four symptoms listed in a questionnaire, including virus warnings, crashes, pop-up ads or slow operation.
The software would then display a “view recommendation” button, which led to a detailed description of tech services costing upwards of hundreds of dollars that were presented as necessary to fix the problems.
The federal agency further alleges that Office Depot management was well aware of the scam since at least 2012, but continued to advertise the free check-up offer and to pressure store managers and associates to generate sales from the program.
The FTC also quoted an employee of Office Depot unit OfficeMax, who complained to corporate headquarters that “I cannot justify lying to a customer or being TRICKED into lying to them for our store to make a few extra dollars.”
“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.”
Office Depot’s $25 million settlement, plus another $10 million obtained from Support.com, will be used by the FTC to provide refunds to consumers, the agency said.