As a result of our undercover investigation, Office Depot has suspended its PC Health Checks throughout the chain, pending review. Employees tell me, the decision is a long time coming.
“If they actually did what they said they did and actually cared about their customers, they never would have started this program because this is completely taking advantage of people that are unaware that they’re being taken advantage of,” said Shane Barnett, an Office Depot employee.
In our hidden camera investigation, we had six brand-new computers go through the PC Health Check at Office Depot stores in Washington and Oregon. In four stores we were told our computers had symptoms of malware and needed expensive repairs. But according to Will Longman, a computer expert at IO Active, our computers were clean.
“We found no symptoms of malware when we operated them, nor did we find any actual malware,” he said.
Office Depot told me it assists six thousand customers per week with the PC Health Check. Manager Tommy Hopkins says the pressure to sell services recommended after the scans is immense.
“If you don’t hit your weekly number, whatever arbitrary number they assign to you, you can literally get written up and eventually terminated for not hitting your sales goals,” explained Hopkins.
In our investigation we learned that before the scan is run, Office Depot techs ask customers four questions about their computers. Do they experience: pop up problems, slow speeds, virus warnings, or random shutdowns.
Derek Held, computer security expert at IO Active, said answering yes to any of the questions will return predetermined results.
“You check a box, you’ll have symptoms of malware, every time, every time,” said Held
Just yesterday we let Office Depot know we were given this internal memo talking about the PC Health Check. In the FAQs it says, “If I click one or all of these questions it comes back with a recommendation for a Platinum Tune up or diagnose and Repair.” The answer from the company was, “This is correct.”
Hopkins said he reported concerns with the scan to his immediate bosses and HR months ago but nothing was done about it.
“I tried to explain this is potentially an ethical situation. I got the exact same response I had gotten from everybody else – it’s a selling strategy. Yeah, but this is a lie. This is wrong and they said no it’s a selling strategy and I pretty much knew I was getting nowhere there,” said Hopkins.
In a statement, Office Depot told me,
Office Depot in no way condones any of the conduct that has been alleged in the reports. We have commenced a full review of the assertions and will take appropriate action.
Office Depot is committed to providing the best possible service to our customers, and we are suspending the PC tune-up services throughout our retail chain pending our review.
We’ve also learned Senator Maria Cantwell’s office has written a letter to the FTC requesting the agency open an investigation into Office Depot.
Photos by Getty Images/Joe Raedle