PITTSBURGH - Spyware installed on computers leased from furniture renter Aaron's Inc. secretly sent 185,000 emails containing sensitive information - including pictures of nude children and people having sex - back to the company's corporate computers, according to court documents filed Wednesday in a class-action lawsuit.
According to the filings, some of the spyware emails contained pictures secretly taken by the rental computers' webcams or other sensitive information including Social Security numbers, social media and email passwords, and customer keystrokes, the Federal Trade Commission determined last year.
The attorneys also claimed Atlanta-based Aaron's hasn't properly notified at least 800 customers allegedly targeted by spyware made by DesignerWare, a company located in North East, Pa.
"Because Aaron's has been so uncooperative in agreeing to give proper notice and assistance to its customers, we've had to ask the court to intervene and order them to do it, so that people can protect their most private kinds of rights and property," said Maury Herman, a New Orleans attorney.
Aaron's officials have previously said the company never installed the spyware on computers rented out of company-operated stores and blamed individual franchisees for installing it. But the new filings claim Aaron's received the data.
Aaron's said in a statement that it disagrees with the claims in the lawsuit and will defend the case vigorously. The company asserted again that some of its 700 franchise stores used the spyware, not the 1,300-plus company-owned stores.
Attorneys for DesignerWare didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The new allegations grew out of an FTC settlement last year and are contained in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Erie. That's where a Casper, Wyo., couple, Brian and Crystal Byrd, have sued DesignerWare, Aaron's, the local franchise from which they rented a computer in 2010, and 45 other unidentified franchises they believed were using the spyware.
The filings seek court permission to file a new complaint adding 54 franchisees based on the 185,000 emails since traced to Aaron's computer servers.
"Aaron's ... has buried its head in the sand, hoping this litigation would just go away without having to do anything to protect its customers," the Byrds' attorneys wrote.