Aussie-founded PC Tools stars in Symantec ‘scareware’ suit

Complaint sees no difference between security marketing and scareware.

Two key products by PC Tools, the Australian company Symantec acquired in 2008, are at the centre of what could become a class action against the security giant.

US resident James Gross filed a complaint this week in the Northern District court in California alleging Symantec is peddling scareware.

The three products alleged to attempt to scare consumers into buying them include PC Tools Registry Mechanic, PC Tools Performance Toolkit, and Symantec’s own Norton Utilities.

“When a consumer searches the worldwide web for software to increase the speed or performance of a computer, to remove harmful PC errors, or to protect their privacy, the individual will likely encounter advertisements for Symantec’s Scareware,” the complaint reads.

Gross alleges that the the ‘scareware’, via a PC scan conducted over the web, deceptively informs the user that dozens of problems exist and claims it “does not, and cannot, perform the valuable tasks represented by Symantec through its website.”

After purchasing PC Tools’ Registry Mechanic for US$29.99, Gross hired forensics experts who he claims found that Symantec always reports that “System health” is low, that “high priority” errors exist, and that privacy is under threat.

A Symantec spokesperson has said the company would vigorously defend the charges.

The potential class action follows the shut down of a major scareware operation in the US that netted the operators over $8 million, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently began refunding to victims.

The FTC charged that the operators used ‘deceptive ads to trick consumers into thinking their computers were infected with viruses or spyware, and then sold them software programs such as Winfixer,Drive Cleaner, and XP Antivirus to “fix” their non-existent problem.”

Symantec acquired PC Tools in 2008 for US$262 million, then headed up by former chief, Simon Clausen.

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