Refunds could be on the horizon for Tucsonans tricked into paying for unnecessary computer repairs at Office Depot or Office Max stores.
The office supply chain, which has several locations in the Tucson area, has agreed to pay $25 million to settle Federal Trade Commission claims that it used fake computer diagnostic scans to convince customers nationwide that their PCs were infected and needed costly fixes.
A software supplier co-accused in the alleged swindle, California-based Support.com Inc., agreed to pay another $10 million, creating a total $35 million pool of money the federal agency intends to use for consumer refunds, the FTC announced this week.
A refund plan has yet to be determined, and details will be released as they become available, a news release said.
Office Depot Inc., which owns both Office Depot and Office Max stores, ran the ruse company-wide from at least 2009 to 2016, the FTC alleged in a court complaint filed Wednesday in Florida, where the firm is headquartered.
Under the scheme, customers were offered free in-store computer scans through the PC Health Check Program, which purported to identify viruses and malware.
But the scan results were bogus and actually were “a sales tool to convince consumers to purchase diagnostic and repair services,” the complaint said.
The surreptitious setup “bilked unsuspecting consumers out of tens of millions of dollars” — proceeds Office Depot split with the firm that provided the fake software, it said.
Many customers spent up to $300 for computer fixes they didn’t need, it said.
Local consumers who believe they were victimized can file complaints online at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call the agency toll-free at (877) 382-4357.
The FTC claims that both Office Depot and Support.com knew since at least 2012 about concerns and complaints related to the PC Health Check program.
“One OfficeMax employee complained to corporate management in 2012, saying ‘I cannot justify lying to a customer or being tricked into lying to them for our store to make a few extra dollars,’” the agency said.
Representatives with Office Depot Inc. could not be reached for comment. A voicemail left on the cell phone of the company’s spokesman was not returned by deadline Friday.