The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has levied a $25 million fine against Office Depot, and a further $10 million against a software company, following the discovery it was tricking customers into paying for unnecessary repair and technical services using a malicious software tool.
Software which 'detects' malware on perfectly clean computers is nothing new: It has been a staple tool in scammers' arsenals since computers for the less technical became a thing. While they range in complexity, from the call-centre scammer who points to benign messages in the Windows Event Log as 'evidence' that your system is infected to Trojan horse packages which purport to scan or maintain your system only to throw up thousands of scary warning messages, they have one thing in common: They're usually only used by true scammers, criminals who have nothing better to do than attempt to bilk computer users out of their hard-earned cash.
It's a disappointment, then, to find that major US retail chain Office Depot, and the OfficeMax subsidiary it acquired in 2013, has been fined $25 million by the US Federal Trade Commission for tricking its customers into paying for repair and technical services they absolutely didn't need by convincing them to install a 'PC Support Agent' which warned of non-existent malware infections on their systems.
'Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats,' says FTC chair 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.'
Following customer complaints, the FTC found that customers were being given a tool dubbed a 'PC Support Agent' or 'PC Health Check', written by Support.com, which would throw up warnings of malware infections based on user-reported symptoms as vague as 'my PC frequently crashes' 'frequent pop-ups or other problems prevent me from browsing the internet,' and 'my PC recently became much slower or is too slow to use.'
The software's recommendations, naturally, were to bring the system in to Office Depot for repair services costing, in some cases, hundreds of dollars to 'fix' the reported issues. The FTC's investigation also found that Office Depot and its software contractor, which has been fined $10 million over the same issue, had been receiving complaints from customers and from its own staff regarding to tool since at least 2012 but that it did not discontinue the software until late 2016.
As well as the fine, Office Depot and its subsidiaries are prohibited from making any misrepresentations about the security or performance of its customers devices verbally or via software utilities, while Support.com is forbidden from making, or providing others with the means to make, misrepresentations about the performance or detection of security issues on any consumer devices.
October 14 2021 | 15:04