Lawsuit claims Symantec sells scareware-like products

A Washington man sues Symantec for misrepresenting the impact of errors detected by some of its PC utility-type products

Symantec has been accused in a lawsuit of California's unfair competition laws and fraudulent inducement by using scareware-like tactics to trick users into buying licenses for its PC utility-type products.

The complaint, which seeks class-action status, was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of James Gross, a Symantec customer from Washington state.

The allegations against the software company involve three of its products: PC Tools Registry Mechanic, PC Tools Performance Toolkit and Norton Utilities. The first two are developed by PC Tools, a Symantec subsidiary since 2008.

All of these programs are designed to identify and address OS privacy and performance issues, as well as other threats that might impact a computer's functionality. Symantec distributes trial versions of these products that allow users to scan their computers for free.

According to Gross' complaint, a team of computer forensics experts hired through his lawyers determined that these trial versions were designed by Symantec to always detect problems, regardless of whether the computer had any.

"Symantec intentionally designed its Scareware [the three products] to invariably report, in an extremely ominous manner, that harmful errors, privacy risks, and other computer problems exist on the user's PC, regardless of the real condition of the consumer's computer," the complaint states.

After the scan is complete, the trial versions of the products, inform users that not all of the identified errors and problems can be fixed without paying for a full license. Because of this, Gross maintains that the products sold by Symantec fall into the category of scareware that misrepresents dangers in order to trick people into buying the software.

The team of computer experts also determined that errors flagged as "High Priority" by Symantec's products, are not, by any stretch of the imagination, credible threats to the functionality of a computer, Gross' lawyers said in the complaint.

The products will always report a low system, privacy and hard-disk health on scanned computers, without performing any actual assessment of the issues, they said.

"By and through the deceptive scheme described above, Symantec has profited, and continues to profit, by defrauding consumers into believing that their computers are severely damaged, and/or at risk, and that purchase of its Scareware is necessary to 'fix' these problems," the complaint states.

Gross seeks damage payments from Symantec for himself and all U.S. individuals or entities who purchased PC Tools Registry Mechanic, PC Tools Performance Toolkit, and Norton Utilities.

Symantec did not return a request for comment regarding the allegations made against it.

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Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
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