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Jesse goes undercover to reveal a free service that’s costing customers big time

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Office Depot is selling fixes for computer problems that don’t exist and pushing customers to purchase costly repairs, a KIRO 7 investigation found.

Now, after watching Jesse Jones’ investigation, the company is pledging to “take appropriate action.”


QUICK FACTS

  • Jesse Jones’ investigation into Office Depot’s PC Health Check.
  • Tested with six new, out-of-the-box computers.
  • Four of six stores claimed “symptoms of malware.”
  • Offered to fix with $180 repair.
  • Other computer security expert believes PC Check might be misleading.
  • In response to Jesse’s investigation, Office Depot pledges a “full review.”

For a month, KIRO 7’s Jesse Jones and producers went to Office Depots from Washington to Oregon asking techs to run the company’s free PC Health Check on six computers.

In the majority of cases, they were told the computers contained software that could jeopardize data and privacy — even though the computers were out-of-the-box new and had never been connected to the Internet.

In cases where symptoms of malware were detected, the solution offered was an expensive Office Depot repair.

“Office Depot in no way condones any of the conduct that is alleged in this report,” company spokeswoman Karen Denning said Tuesday in a written statement after Jesse’s investigation aired. “We intend to fully review the assertions and take appropriate action.”

KIRO 7 took the same new computers inspected by Office Depot to Seattle-based computer security company IOActive.

“We found no symptoms of malware when we operated them,” computer expert Will Longman said. “Nor did we find any actual malware.”

Longman believes the Office Depot “PC Health Check” appears designed to sell products to unsuspecting customers, “so there is that potential for a consumer to be misled and want to or need to fix things that aren’t actually broken.”

Services checked at six Office Depots

Jesse and his team took the six computers to Office Depots in Snohomish, King and Pierce Counties and to Portland, Oregon.

In each store they told the techs the computer was running slow.

4 out of 6 of the stores said the check showed “symptoms of malware” — even though the computers had never been connected to the internet.

“There’s no such thing as a malware fairy that’s stops by in the night and finds computers to infect,” says Derek Held, an IT specialist at IOActive.

The scan used by Office Depot requires techs to ask customers four questions about pop up problems, slow speeds, virus warnings and random shut downs.

Held said if a tech checks a box, the software automatically signals a malware problem.

“When any four of them is checked any combination and single, as long as one of those boxes is checked you will see the malware symptoms in the report,” he said.  “It didn’t matter anything else that was on the report. It was automatic that made it show up on the report.”

It’s a predetermined result followed by a sales pitch.

Costly fix pushed after incorrect results

One Office Depot tech gave us a range of issues connected to having symptoms of malware,

“Because it was installed with an update of some sort.  All the way up to full blown viruses trying to steal your credit card information so they can ruin your credit,” the tech told us.

Most of the techs tried to sell us Repair and Protection services for as much as $180.

The company that makes the program is Support.com. In 2012, Support.com was sued in a class action lawsuit for a program that checked the security of customers’ computers.

Plaintiff’s lawyers called the program deceptive and Support.com paid more than $8 million dollars to settle the case.

Will Longman from IOActive sees a possible likeness between the Support.com case and what Office Depot’s PC Health Check is doing now, “There are similarities in that some of the language that is produced in the report when it states symptoms of malware have been discovered could be misleading to an inexperienced user.”

Knowing that, we conducted one final test out of state.

We bought a computer at an Office Depot in Vancouver, Washington.

We then had it tested at a store in Portland, Oregon.

The tech there said malware symptoms were found in our computer.

Office Depot whistleblower comes forward

Not every store was like Portland, and not every tech told us our computers had symptoms of malware.

In Everett and Tacoma, techs told us we just needed anti-virus software.

Only the tech in Tacoma noticed our computer was brand new and told us to ignore the test results.

So, why would a tech tell us to ignore the result?

One Office Depot whistleblower says he may know the reason why.

“People are aware of it,” he told us about the other techs who know the results of the PC Health Check might be false.

The whistleblower is still an employee of Office Depot. He’s now coming forward to tell his story about how his co-workers are pressured to run the scans.

“The program itself is mandatory,” he told KIRO 7. “It’s not an option to not run the program. You have to run it on every machine that comes in the building. Period.”

And now he wants everyone to know the truth that he says Office Depot management doesn’t want to hear.

Companies wouldn’t go on camera

Office Depot declined an on camera interview. In a written response about the PC Health Check, a company spokeswoman said that “since not all malware can be detected by just the scan, we’ve added variables that allow us to ask the customer qualifying questions to better identify potential issues.

“This provides a consistent way for our store associates to ask qualifying questions of the customer and/or evaluate whether or not further service may be needed based upon their responses. Based upon the PC tune-up tool and its findings, it provides a recommendation for repair.”

Monday afternoon, shortly before Jesse’s story aired, Office Depot’s Senior Manager of Public Relations send another written statement.

“The Free Tune-up goes through 30+ variables when doing a system check,” Julianne (Carelli) Embry wrote. “In addition to the basic scan, it’s also looking at virus software and definitions updates. As an example, a machine that is out of virus definitions for more than 7 days will alert.

“Typically we see that the customer is either not running or has failed to update their Antivirus software.”

Support.com also declined an on camera interview.

In a written statement, a company spokesperson said, “We work with Office Depot regularly to ensure the PC Tune-Up product works best for its customers. Separately, the ARO software [the software described in the class action lawsuit] that you are inquiring about is not a product that we provide or have provided to Office Depot for its Tech Services.”

On Tuesday at 5 p.m., Jesse talks in-depth with the Office Depot whistleblower who alerted him to the problem. Watch with us on KIRO 7, or use this link to watch the KIRO 7 News livestream.

 

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