The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sent $34 million to victims of a scheme by Office Depot and a separate software provider that encouraged them to buy unnecessary computer repair products, according to a report.
The FTC ruled that Office Depot should pay $25 million and that the software company, Support.com, would pay $10 million as part of a 2019 settlement.
“Consumers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses and other threats,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons when the settlement was announced. “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.”
The FTC said the companies created a program to scan for viruses that would indicate symptoms of malware or other viral infections if a customer answered “yes” to one of four questions during a diagnostic test, even when there were no existing issues. The bogus results were then used to compel customers to spend money on expensive and unnecessary tech services.
“The FTC alleges that both Office Depot and Support.com have been aware of concerns and complaints about the PC Health Check program since at least 2012,” the settlement release said.
The FTC is distributing 541,247 checks at $63.35 each. The checks must be deposited within 60 days, and the FTC wants to remind consumers that they will never be required to pay anything or give account information in order to cash a check. People with questions about the process can call the FTC at 1-855-915-0916.
The FTC also has a new interactive dashboard for refund data that provides a breakdown of refunds by state, as well as information about refunds in other cases.