back to article Office Depot, OfficeMax, Support.com cough up $35m after charging folks millions in 'fake' malware cleanup fees

Office Depot and Support.com have coughed up $35m after they were accused of lying to people that their PCs were infected with malware in order to charge them cleanup fees. On Wednesday, the pair of businesses settled a lawsuit brought against them by the US Federal Trade Commission, which alleged staff at the tech duo falsely …

  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

    How many people were "affected"? It seem that much of that penalty is refunding the defrauded customers. So, no criminal charges, pay back the affected customers, (any compensation to the customers for the crime committed against them?) and if there's anything left in the "penalty pot", that's the actual fine.

    It sounds like it's barely a slap on the wrist. Corporate buys it's justice at a knock down price. Again.

    Why are these sorts of cases even allowed to be settled out of court? It sounds pretty much like an open and shut case of fraud. The actions of their software were designed that way. This is not a mistake or a "rogue engineer".

    1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

      Better question, why would anyone with a lick of sense trust someone like Orifice Depot with their computers? You would probably be better off working with a local shop, tech savvy friend or relative. The rates may not be cheaper but you are more likely to get an honest evaluation from them as they will value a relationship with you.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

        > working with a local shop, tech savvy friend or relative

        There aren't any local shops here any more. There used to be a ton of them, but Best Buy, NewEgg, Amazon, etc put them out of business.

        And there's a lot of folks without a tech savvy friend or relative.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

          without a tech savvy friend or relative

          They may well have them but said friend/relative is sick and tired of being used (and complained at) about being unpaid tech support and has declined to assist ("No - I don't do technical stuff any more and I've forgotten everything. Speak to someone else..")

          Not that I'm going by personal knowledge at all. Me? I don't do technical stuff any more and I've forgotten all my skills.

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

          "probably be better off working with a local shop"

          Just ring my brother , He'll come to your house and sort it.

          He does charge £60 ph though!

      2. Rustbucket

        Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

        >probably be better off working with a local shop

        Who is to say all that the local shops would be any more honest?

        At least in the big stores there are a lot of potential whistle blowers who aren't getting a personal cut of the proceeds and might be more willing to rat the stores out.

        1. holmegm Bronze badge

          Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

          Yep, that's the fallacy of the false alternative.

          "Instead of evil BigCorp that's in the news all the time, you should just use, er ... that perfectly trustworthy alternative over there, you know, the one that gets far less scrutiny ... "

      3. Olivier2553 Silver badge

        Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

        they will value a relationship with you

        Even in a super-market, the vendors in charge of computers and electronics are usually quite specialized and will not move around. So there is a way to build a relationship with them because you are likely to always see the same faces.

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

        "Better question, why would anyone with a lick of sense trust someone like Orifice Depot with their computers?"

        I'm not familiar with the US situation but considering the alternatives here I wouldn't trust them. But it's not so much a lick of sense as the requisite knowledge. These scams obviously operate against people who don't know better and if they don't know enough to recognise a scam they also don't know enough to make an informed judgement about the supplier. The supplier is a big public company; it ought to be trustworthy.

    2. RM Myers

      Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

      I don't believe the FTC can file criminal charges. That would be the responsibility of the DOJ or state attorney generals. Also, a consent agreement doesn't mean criminal charges can not be filed, which is probably one reason they didn't admit guilt.

    3. DougS Silver badge

      The FTC is asleep at the wheel

      It looks like they got away with paying back the customers who complained and joined the suit. What about all the customers who didn't hear about the suit and were bilked out of money? Looks like the wrongdoers get to keep that money. By not admitting fault they basically got away with it.

      It is like if I robbed a bank, and they knew I got $5000 out of one drawer but didn't know how much was in the other drawers, and I got caught but the judge let me off without any jail time if I paid back the $5000 the bank was sure it lost. That would hardly provide me with a disincentive to stop robbing banks!

    4. Highinthemountains

      Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

      If you look at a lot of the support agreements or even software licenses they have an arbitration clause in there against damages. The real culprits, management, will never see the inside of a courtroom.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disgusting

    I see victims getting fleeced at these BigBox type stores all the time.

    And to make matters worse they push whatever "antivirus" program they happen to be partnered with that week with every purchase of a new computer to guarantee return customers who's Windows 10 lappy refuses to boot.

  3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    PC Health Check Program

    I wonder if there was a clause in the Terms of Use which outlawed Reverse Engineering/Disassembly of the code.

    1. Blazde
      Meh

      Re: PC Health Check Program

      Probably, but with 4 checkboxes dictating the diagnosis using the simplest possible logic you could black-box reverse it without going anywhere near the usual definitions of reverse engineering.

      I assume version 2 of PC Health Check will be a little more complex to thwart analysis... once you've checked any of the boxes it'll store a registry value and always report a problem in future. And for good measure, if version 3 finds the same registry value it'll slow down your PC itself.

      1. Ghostman
        Coat

        Re: PC Health Check Program

        Use of the PC Health Check was stopped in 2016 after reports of the TV news report came out.

        I worked at Office Depot in tech and had stopped using the PC Health Check as the only diagnostic tool several years before when my manager had called Support.com when a customer looked at the report generated during the service and it said "no malware found and removed". He was told about the way the health check worked and we agreed to not use it as the only diagnostic tool.

        We (at my location) did a lot more to repair computers than most other stores (all of us in tech built and maintained our own computers).

        The new PC Check hooked up with an online tech and ran several diagnostic tools, sent back a report page detailing what was wrong, and made suggestions. The customer could then choose what they wanted done, or decline the services.

        Many times the services were to update software, install A/V, upgrade RAM, defrag hard drive, and the funniest one I ever saw was a note at the end the report for a computer that the hard drive was about to die, not enough ram, cpu fan was on it's last legs, and several other big problems.

        The note basically said that it would be cheaper for the customer to just buy a new computer than have the old one repaired.

        I'm getting my coat and go home since I'm retired.

    2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: PC Health Check Program

      They didn't need to reverse-engineer anything. A TV station took brand-new PCs that had never been connected to the internet into Office Depot for "free" scans, which then magically found that the PCs malware.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    FAIL

    Same method as used by phone scammers

    Hello, my name is Colin (thick Asian accent)

    Your computer is infected.

    Let me add some software.....

    At least these corporate scammers got caught, somewhat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Same method as used by phone scammers

      Frustrating that there's no personal liability for what is essentially criminal activity.

  5. Christoph Silver badge

    The first stage in correcting this kind of behaviour is to accept and admit that what you were doing was wrong.

    If they had admitted wrong-doing and done a public house-cleaning with outside supervision, it might be possible to trust them again.

    Since they have adamantly refused to accept that there was anything wrong with what they were doing, they can never be trusted again.

  6. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Facepalm

    So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

    Love it. Once again it's a US company that shows the rest of the world how to redefine the limits of scum-baggery and barrel-scraping in terms of making a fast $.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, no wrongdoing. But $35m in penalties.

      Once again it's a US company that shows the rest of the world how to redefine the limits of scum-baggery and barrel-scraping in terms of making a fast $

      Assholery is not unique to US companies.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    have coughed up $35m

    this is one of the more deplorable features of a US legal system where, instead of receiving a just punishment you essentialy, bribe your way out of prison, by paying a fine. Obviously, this does not apply to a joe on the street, nosir. But, if you a multi-milion (or bilion) business, crime pays, as numerous settlements by both "reputable" international banks and con-houses like these two prove.

    1. Blazde

      Re: have coughed up $35m

      Joe on the street bribes his way out of prison by accepting a plea bargain of 5 years for a crime he didn't commit, to avoid Life for the crime he may or may not have committed, for which there's no real prospect of conviction, but for which he'll spend the next 5 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting. It's a bit the same. Except not really.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: have coughed up $35m

      Does the Proceeds of Crime Act (in the UK) cover corporates as well? If not, it should do..

  8. sitta_europea Bronze badge

    Why the fuck is nobody going to prison for this multi-million dollar fraud?

  9. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Not just fraud; it's fraud with quotas

    Another article I read detailed how OfficeMax / Office Depot had detailed quotas for the number of scans that should be run per day, and that at least 50% of those scans had to be converted into paid "repairs." Employees who failed to meet these quotas received poor reviews, and managers of stores which failed to meet them were berated and punished by corporate HQ.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's funny, all those adverts for "free system check" - it's a wonder they didn't ask them to walk over to Walmart for gift cards or give them instructions on how to buy bitcoin......

  11. STOP_FORTH
    Unhappy

    Illegal scumbaggery

    Illegal scumbaggery, pure and simple. There is simply no excuse for this behaviour. The US justice system is more broken than I had previously imagined.

    Not saying the UK system is any better, but we don't claim to be the best in the world. (Maybe we are not the worst in the world?)

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