The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Wednesday that Office Depot agreed to pay $25 million to settle allegations that the company “tricked customers into buying millions of dollars’ worth of computer repair and technical services by deceptively claiming their software had found malware symptoms on the customers’ computers.” Support.com, Office Depots’ software supplier, agreed to pay $10 million to settle the same allegations.
“Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons said in a statement. “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.”
The allegations stem from PC Health Check, a program that Office Depot marketed as free “PC check-up,” which the company claimed would help improve a computer’s performance and scan for virus and other cybersecurity concerns. Support.com would step in after a customer had purchased the program to perform remote tech repair services. The FTC alleged that while Office Depot said the program detected malware systems on the user’s computer, the program actually generated its results based on whether the user answered “yes” to four questions asked at the beginning of the program. The questions covered topics such as whether the user’s computer was running slower than normal, whether they experienced a lot of pop up ads, whether they were warned about a potential virus infection, and whether their PC frequently crashes. However, the FTC said, “the scan had no connection to the ‘malware symptoms’ results.”
The FTC further explained that 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.”
The FTC alleged that both Office Depot and Support.com were “aware of concerns and complaints about the PC Health Check program since at least 2012.” The FTC said that both companies violated the FTC Act’s prohibition against deceptive practices.
In addition to the monetary fine, the settlement also prohibits Office Depot from “making misrepresentations about the security or performance of a consumer’s electronic device and requires the company to ensure its existing and future software providers do not engage in such conduct.” Additionally, as part of its proposed settlement, Support.com “cannot make, or provide others with the means to make, misrepresentations about the performance or detection of security issues on consumer electronic devices.”