US RETAILER Office Depot has slapped with a $25m by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for running fake malware scans on customers' PCs.
The scans, run in conjuction with partner Support.com, warned customers that their PC was infested with malware and was used to scam them into buying malware removal, security and other software. Support.com was fined $10m for its part.
In a statement, the FTC said it will use the funds from the settlements to issue refunds to customers scammed by Office Depot's shady tech support services.
According to the FTC, Support.com worked with Office Depot for a decade on the scheme.
It claims that the companies used a programme called PC Health Check as "a sales tool to convince consumers to purchase tech repair services" and that they "marketed the program as a free PC check-up or tune-up service to help improve a computer's performance and scan for viruses and other security threats".
The FTC believes that this initiative led to Support.com receiving "tens of millions of dollars" in revenue from Office Depot as it performed remote tech repair services.
"The FTC alleges that while Office Depot claimed the program detected malware symptoms on consumers' computers, the actual results presented to consumers were based entirely on whether consumers answered ‘yes' to four questions they were asked at the beginning of the PC Health Check program," wrote the federal agency in a release.
"These included questions about whether the computer ran slow, received virus warnings, crashed often, or displayed pop-up ads or other problems that prevented the user from browsing the Internet."
The Commission has accused the companies of violating US laws against deceptive practices.
Along with the proposed settlement, it has also prohibited 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".
Meanwhile, it has ruled that 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".
FTC Chairman Joe Simons said: "Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses and other threats.
"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." µ
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