U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urging the agency to investigate allegations that Office Depot is causing consumers to buy unnecessary computer repair packages and software.

The allegations against Office Depot and its sister company, Office Max, stem from reports by television stations KIRO of Seattle and WFXT of Boston. Both stations had purchased new PCs and taken them to local Office Depot or Office Max stores for analysis, telling technicians the machines were running slowly.

According to the TV stations, most of the support technicians in both places claimed the PCs were infected with malware, recommending repairs or long-term support plans ranging from $148 to $199.

Under its PC Health Check program, the office supply chain offers “free computer scans” to customers, to check for the presence of viruses and malware.

“American consumers rely on their personal computers now more than ever. Kids need computers for their school work; families need computers to keep track of their finances; and small business owners need computers to run their enterprises,” said Cantwell. 

“They are the gateways through which we live our lives.  In this context, Office Depot’s exploitative behavior is particularly disturbing,” said Cantwell. “We must stand up for American consumers and make sure they are not being deceived into making purchases with their hard earned dollars,” she added.

Under federal law, the FTC may bring enforcement action against deceptive or unfair marketing practices.  Senator Cantwell urged the agency to use this authority to investigate allegations of such practices at Office Depot stores and to punish offenders if necessary.