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Office Depot suspected of support scam

Two separate investigations have shown that office supply chain Office Depot sold unnecessary malware fixes.

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American office supply retailer Office Depot, and it’s sister company OfficeMax, are both in hot water following two independent investigations by news outlets KIRO 7 TV News in Seattle, and WFXT in Bostson. During a month long investigation, KIRO 7’s producers handed brand new computers to Office Depot to be scanned by their free “PC Health Check” software. The computers were out-of-the-box and had never been connected to the internet, yet four of six stores in Seattle and Portland reported them to be infected by malware. The stores then offered repairs costing as much as $180. KIRO 7 brought the same computers to Seattle based security company IOActive, who found no signs of an infection.

“We found no symptoms of malware when we operated them,” computer expert Will Longman said. “Nor did we find any actual malware.” He continues, adding that PC Health Check seems designed for the purpose of scamming, “so there is that potential for a consumer to be misled and want to or need to fix things that aren’t actually broken.”

PC Health Check checks for one of four symptoms including slow speeds, pop-up problems, virus warnings or random shut-downs. “As long as one of those boxes is checked you will see the malware symptoms in the report,” said Derek Held, a researcher at IOActive “It didn’t matter anything else that was on the report. It was automatic that made it show up on the report.”

Shane Barnett, former tech employee for Office Depot sheds further light on the allegations: Barnett explained that workers at Office Depot are pressured into running the scans and that each employee must fill a monthly quota of support jobs.

“The program itself is mandatory,” says Barnett.  “It’s not an option to not run the program. You have to run it on every machine that comes in the building. Period.”

KIRO News reports that PC Health Check has also been sold by support.com, who along with its partner AOL, agreed to pay out $8.5 million in 2013 to settle a lawsuit which similarly held that the software misrepresented virus scan results and encouraged users to pay for costly and unnecessary repairs.

WFXT’s investigation showed that two of three new computers were similarly diagnosed at OfficeMax retailers, who offer the same service. Officials at Office Depot, who operate both retail chains, have said they will cease using the PC Health Check software. They further state that they do not condone the methods used by the investigators and have launched a review of their assertions.

Following the investigations, Senator Maria Cantwell has asked the US Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the allegations against Office Depot.

“American consumers rely on their personal computers now more than ever.  Kids need computers for their school work; families need computers to keep track of their finances; and small business owners need computers to run their enterprises.  They are the gateways through which we live our lives.  In this context, Office Depot’s exploitative behavior is particularly disturbing.” she said in a letter to the trade commission.

source: KIRO 7 News

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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