Thread regarding Office Depot Inc. layoffs

Office Depot Faked Malware Infections on New PCs (Report)-breached trust

Security researchers, vendors and everyday users usually work together in order to keep their computers safe and thwart cybercriminals. But according to two damning reports, the retail chains Office Depot and OfficeMax may have breached that trust.

Two undercover investigations appear to have caught store employees red-handed at charging exorbitant prices to get rid of malware on machines that were, in fact, totally clean — tech-support scams no different from those conducted by shady call centers in India.

These revelations come from KIRO-TV 7 News in Seattle and its sister Fox affiliate, WFXT-TV Fox25 in Boston. Shane Barnett, a whistle-blower who worked at Office Depot in the Seattle area, let KIRO-TV in on the retail chain's secret: Technicians would scan users' computers, find "malware" and other issues, and then charge up to $200 to "fix" the problems.

MORE: How to Protect Yourself from Tech-Support Scams

This isn't the first time Office Depot has been caught scamming customers. In 2009, our sister site Laptop Magazine revealed that customers who refused to buy extended support plans from the chain were told that the specific machines they wanted weren't in stock — even when those models were sitting in that store's stockroom.

In this year's cases, the Office Depot and OfficeMax technicians would often report malware and other problems even when the computers were perfectly clean. Barnett told KIRO-TV that this was standard policy at Office Depot, and that technicians were given a quota of "PPs" — protection plans — to sell every month.

To test Barnett’s assertion, the news organizations sent undercover investigators into Office Depot stores in Washington state and Oregon, and OfficeMax stores in the Boston area. (Office Depot purchased OfficeMax three years ago.) The investigators went to the "Free PC Tune-Up" counters in the stores, told the technicians that their laptops were running slowly, and asked for evaluations.

What the store techs didn't know was that they were inspecting brand-new computers, fresh out of the box.

Most of the technicians nevertheless told the investigators that their laptops were infected with malware, and that the fixes would cost up to $180 apiece. One technician even appeared to note the presence of malware on a record sheet before his scan registered anything.

(To be fair, one store technician noticed that the laptop he was examining was brand-new, and told the customer he was helping to ignore the results of the "health check" software — software that a third-party security expert said almost always returned a result of malware infection, whether any existed or not.)

The KIRO-TV investigators then brought their six test computers, a mixture of Dell and HP machines, to Will Longman, vice president of IT and security at IOActive, a Seattle-based security firm. Longman found no evidence of malware on any of KIRO-TV's machines. One is inclined to trust his opinion, since his company would long be out of business were he unable to detect malware accurately.

While it's not impossible for a single new machine to come pre-loaded with malware (or something that an antivirus scan would mistake as such), it's highly unlikely to find the same phenomenon across a variety of different models and manufacturers. Furthermore, removing most malware does not cost $180 in any reasonable universe. A scan from a free program like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware will do it just fine; even a yearlong subscription to a basic security suite for the average user should cost less than $50 per year.

Office Depot issued a statement that it "in no way condones any of the conduct that is alleged in this report," and "intend[s] to fully review the assertions and take appropriate action." In the meantime, the company has temporarily stopped offering its PC Health Check service.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, last week wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to investigate the allegations.

Whether the fraud was intentional or accidental (or whether there was any fraud at all, although the evidence is compelling), the days of Office Depot and OfficeMax bilking customers through malware scans may be coming to a close. Still, it’s a good lesson: Never trust a big-box store to monitor the health of your PC when you can do it by yourself much more cheaply and reliably.

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Post ID: @KFlLrMY

4 replies (most recent on top)

Last year, I attended a sales meeting with all the ASMs and senior sales technicians in our area (in the NW for the OD/OM stores). Attending was our regional manager and two district managers. We were all encouraged to promote the free PC tune ups. We were told that each employee should hand out 10 cards per shift. Our business cards had the free PC tune up ad on the backside.

We were also instructed to ask each customer, buying any kind of tech or printer paper the "Phrase That Pays?" "When was the last time your system was professionally tuned up?" Following the customer's answer, we were to lead them to our tech center to make an appointment for a tune up.

One of us brought up the questions as to why were we seeing so many infected systems following the tune ups. Our regional manager said that if we clicked on any of the four boxes in the pre-stage of the tune up, the tune up would AUTOMATICALLY report malware., before any scan took place.

As soon as I heard that answer, I spoke up saying it was unethical and that in the future, when doing tune ups, I would not click on any of those boxes, unless I noticed the usual pop-ups upon booting up of the system. Or ... if seeing any extremely slow boot up and going into the task manager and control panel to find any of the usual viruses running in the back ground or programs installed.

I said that If I did find something, I would click one or more of those four boxes. If I didn't, I wouldn't click on any box ... None of the managers answered me back, but shrugged at all of us.

And what do you know, following that sales meeting, on all follow up tune ups, no virus or malware warnings came up on the results page.

Since our tune ups have been discontinued by corporate, our tech service numbers, at our store, region, district and national have dropped way down.

What I am confused about though is where is the FTC in this whole matter? OD made millions on the follow up services following those bogus tune ups. A big time investigation is warranted and heads should roll at OD/OM Corp.

Just my two cents ... and yes ... I still work for OD/OM and am still pressured to boost plans and services.

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Post ID: @KFlLrMY-Klft

Of course its a scam. I have worked for them for 1.5 years. Have done nothing but complained since I went to work for them, Turned many people away from service. I got in trouble for doing so, I have ethics so be it when I say your fine. My job is to fix NOT just make a sale! Currently l still employed. Looking for another job, don't want to be associated with such behavior.

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Post ID: @KFlLrMY-zaly

I used to work for them and I know for a fact that if you checked any of the questions that the PC checkup software asked you. It would automatically say that it found symptoms of malware on your computer.

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Post ID: @KFlLrMY-ykgz

S#$$$tt I just got my computer fixed a few months back. I bet I got scammed by my own company...

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