WASHINGTON (Heartland Newsfeed) — OfficeDepotMax and a California-based technical support software provider have agreed to settle allegations made by the Federal Trade Commission, citing the companies tricked Office Depot customers into buying millions of dollars’ worth of computer repair and technical support services by deceptively claiming their software had found malware on customer computers. The parties agreed to pay a total of $35 million in the settlement.
As part of these settlements, OfficeDepotMax has agreed to pay $25 million while Support.com has agreed to pay $10 million. The FTC plans to use these funds to provide refunds to affected consumers.
“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.”
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The FTC alleged in their complaint that Support.com and Office Depot worked together for nearly a decade, providing technical support services within its stores. The companies used PC Health Check, a software program, as a sales tool to convince consumers to purchase technical repair services from the combined OfficeDepotMax, the company which resulted from a 2013 merger of Office Depot and Office Max.
The companies marketed the program as part of a free “PC check-up” or tune-up service to improve computer performance, while scanning for viruses and other security threats. Support.com, who have received tens of millions of dollars in revenue during their partnership with Office Depot, performed the remote services following the purchase.
The complaint continued to allege that OfficeDepotMax made claims of false positives regarding malware on consumer computers, while the actual results were determined as a result of four questions, relying on affirmative responses at the beginning of the PC Health Check program. These questions included whether the computer was running slow, received virus or malware warnings, crashed often or presented pop-up ads or additional problems as a result of surfing the net.
As a result of the false positive, the companies, without any due diligence, pushed technical services that were not needed, when the real result of the scans reflected no viruses or malware, services that would run in the amount of several hundred dollars to fix a problem that didn’t exist.
The complaint continues to allege that both companies were aware of the concerns and complaints about the program utilized since at least 2012. A cited example involved an OfficeMax employee who complained to corporate management stating, “I cannot justify lying to a customer or being TRICKED into lying to them for our store to make a few extra dollars.” Despite this and many internal warnings, OfficeDepotMax still continued to advertise and use the program until late 2016, persistently pushing store managers and employees to generate sales from the program.
A representative from the FTC stated that the allegations following an investigation which revealed both companies were in violation of the FTC Act, which prohibits deceptive practices in business.
The settlement prohibits OfficeDepotMax from making further misrepresentations about the security or performance of a consumer’s electronic device and requires the company to ensure its existing and future software providers not engage in such conduct. Support.com cannot make or provide others with misrepresentations about the performance or detection of security issues on consumer electronic devices.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.