Office Depot May Be Diagnosing Computers with Fake Viruses to Meet Sales Goals

Employees claim that they have misdiagnosed viruses as a result of pressure to meet sales goals

Office Depot May Be Diagnosing Computers with Fake Viruses to Meet Sales Goals
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November 16, 2016

Unethical sales practices may be spreading from finance into tech and retail.

As Wells Fargo Bank works to rebuild its reputation (and customer base) after a scandal over illegal sales practices that eventually led to millions of dollars in fines, the firing of more than 5,000 low-level employees, the early retirement of former CEO John Stumpf, and lawsuits filed by investors, customers, and former employees, it may soon be joined by retailer Office Depot.

Consumerist reports that employees of the office supply chain are claiming that pressure to meet sales goals for computer protection plans and other services has forced them to falsely diagnose customers' computers with viruses.

"The PC Health Check doesn't compute," said one employee, who was identified by CBSNews as Shane Barnett. "If they actually did what they say they did and actually cared about their customers, they would have never started this program. Because this is completely taking advantage of people that are unaware that they're being taken advantage of."

CBS affiliate KIRO-TV performed an undercover investigation in which their cameras recorded Office Depot employees using the free PC Health Check service to sell expensive computer repairs for problems that did not, in fact, exist.

The investigators brought six computers to Office Depot locations in Washington and Oregon for checkups. The technicians repeatedly told them that the PCs were infected with malware and offered to fix the problems for a fee of almost $200.

The problem was that each computer was brand new.

"We found no symptoms of malware on these computers when we operated them," said Will Longman, Vice President of Information Technology and Security at IOActive, an independent computer security firm to which the investigators took the computers to test the claims of malware.

At two Office Depot locations, employees said that there was no malware on the computers, but that they did need anti-virus software. One store told the investigators to ignore the results of the PC Health Check test.

IOActive alleges that any time a customer makes a complaint about pop-ups, slow speeds, virus warnings, or frequent crashes, scans performed by Office Depot will automatically suggest problems that could explain the behavior.

Office Depot employee Barnett claims that his hours at the retailer have been reduced since he started speaking out against the sales practices more than two years ago. A spokesperson from Office Depot stated that "[w]e intend to fully review the assertions and take appropriate action."