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.”
- 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.
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?
Former Office Depot tech, Shane Barnett, said he may know why.
Barnett said he and his co-workers are pressured to run the scans.
“The program itself is mandatory,” said Barnett. “It’s not an option to not run the program. You have to run it on every machine that comes in the building. Period.”
Barnett said the company pushes each employee to meet sales goals for tech services. He said each tech’s goals are posted in the breakroom.
“I knew I was going to be replaced when I started to see that stuff happening because I refused to do it. They’re like you have to hit these numbers. I’m like I’m not going to make things up so you can hit your numbers. I’m not going to do it,” recalled Barnett.
According to Barnett, he and other techs told management about the problems with the PC Health Check but no one listened. So he felt the only answer was to go public. He said his hours have been cut since he’s spoken out. But he’s still hopeful the company will do right by the customer.
“To be honest with you, I’d like to see all the people who’ve had their money taken – — you know, the economy’s tight. Give them their money back. It’s not fair. It’s not fair,” said Barnett.
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.”
Senator Cantwell Calls For Federal Investigation
Following Jesse’s investigative report, Senator Maria Cantwell asked the Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the allegations against Office Depot. In her letter, Sen. Cantwell stated,
“American consumers rely on their personal computers now more than ever. Kids need computers for their school work; families need computers to keep track of their finances; and small business owners need computers to run their enterprises. They are the gateways through which we live our lives. In this context, Office Depot’s exploitative behavior is particularly disturbing.”
You can read the Senator’s full letter here.
Customers Inquire About Refunds
Office Depot confirms it is looking into the possibility of refunds. We will have more on that as the information becomes available.
Click here to hear from the whistleblower who introduced us to this issue.
Click here to watch the story with the Office Depot Manager who talks about the pressure employees face to make sales goals.