OLYMPIA, Wash -- Office Depot will pay $900,000 to Washington state for deceptive computer repair sales that led thousands of Washingtonians to buy services they may not have needed.
According to the state Attorney General's Office, until late 2016, Office Depot used variations of “PC Health Check,” a software program that led consumers to purchase diagnosis and repair services costing up to $200 regardless of whether their computer was actually infected with viruses or malware.
As part of the settlement with the AG's office, Office Depot is prohibited from using deceptive programs to sell repair services and must conduct reviews of its software providers to ensure they're not misleading customers.
“There are plenty of scammers online trying to trick Washingtonians or sell them bogus software,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “They should be able to trust that an established national retail chain is not deceiving them. This resolution ensures that Office Depot will live up to the faith consumers place in them.”
Washington is the only state to reach an agreement on top of a $35 million national settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for similar conduct. That FTC settlement will provide restitution for impacted consumers.
Ferguson said he's setting aside the $900,000 until the FTC restitution process is finished. If Washington consumers don't get full restitution from the national settlement, the $900,000 will supplement their payments. If the FTC provides full restitution, the AG's office will keep the $900,000 to fund future consumer protection work, Ferguson said.
At the beginning of the PC Health Check service, an Office Depot employee asked the customer four questions about whether the customer’s computer had slowed down, experienced frequent pop-ups, received virus warnings or frequently crashed. They then entered the responses into the PC Health Check program. Once the questions were answered, the software conducted a simple scan of the computer.
Ferguson said PC Health Check always reported “malware symptoms found” or the “scan has identified potential malware related symptoms” if the consumer answered “yes” to any of the four pre-scan questions.
When the PC Health Check software “uncovered” malware or a virus, the employee would recommend a diagnosis and repair service to remove it, typically costing between $150 and $200.
In 2012, an Office Depot employee notified management that the software reported malware symptoms on a computer that “didn’t have anything wrong with it.”
Office Depot, however continued the sales practice until 2016, selling the service to roughly 14,000 people in Washington state.
As part of a separate settlement with the FTC, Office Depot and its software vendor, Support.com, will also pay $35 million to the FTC, which will be used for nationwide consumer restitution, according to Ferguson's office. Click here for more information.