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Office Depot, OfficeMax claim brand-new computers are infected by malware to sell useless removal services

One of the common problems the less computer-savvy face are inevitable malware infections. A number of companies like Best Buy, Office Depot, and OfficeMax all offer computer services that will scan and remove malware from an infected system, but often only at a steep price. Separate investigations into Office Depot and OfficeMax, however, have shown that both companies will diagnose a brand-new computer that’s never been connected to the Internet as infected with malware. If you want the “malware” removed, that’s $180.

An investigation by KIRO 7 in Seattle took six brand-new computers to Office Depots in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties. They visited six separate stores and were told at four of them that their computers showed symptoms of malware, despite having never been connected to the Internet. The software Office Depot uses to scan for malware (and we use these terms loosely) is called PC Health Check and is manufactured by Support.com, a company that paid $8 million dollars to settle a deceptive advertising case in 2012. According to Derek Held, an IT specialist with IOActive, PC Health Check doesn’t actually scan a system at all. Instead, techs are required to ask questions about popup problems, slow Internet speeds, virus warnings, or random shutdowns. If any of these four items are checked, the software automatically claims that a malware problem may exist. IOActive also examined the KIRO 7 systems and found no evidence of malware whatsoever. Even a separate computer KIRO 7 purchased from Office Depot was identified as being infected by malware out of the box.

While not every technician pushed the KIRO 7 investigative team to purchase a malware removal option for $180, most did, and an insider at Office Depot was willing to explain why. According to former Office Depot tech Shane Barnett, employees are required to run the PC Health Check software on every single system.

“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 adds that he and other technicians communicated the problems with PC Health Check to upper management, which wasn’t interested in their reports. Sales figures and quotas were posted in the break room, which is when Barnett went public about the program. Office Depot claims that it is now investigating the issue, but wasn’t willing to comment on camera.

An investigation in Boston by FOX25 found similar problems in OfficeMax stores (Office Depot and OfficeMax are owned by the same company). Three brand-new systems were similarly identified as being malware-infested or having other problems, and customers were advised to pay between $150 and $200 to deal with these nonexistent issues. The company has released the following statement:

“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.”

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) has sent a letter to the FTC asking that the organization open an investigation into what she termed “exploitive behavior.”

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