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    FTC Settles With 7 Rent-to-own Companies and a Software-Design Firm on Computer Spying Charges

    The Federal Trade Commission has announced a settlement with companies concerning surveillance software that was installed on computers that consumers rented from them. The software allowed access to personal e-mails, financial and medical data and webcam photos of partially undressed individuals, the FTC said:

    Seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they spied on consumers using computers that consumers rented from them, capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging their computer keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, all without notice to, or consent from, the consumers.

    The software design firm collected the data that enabled rent-to-own stores to track the location of rented computers without consumers’ knowledge according to the FTC complaint.  The settlements bar the companies from any further illegal spying, from activating location-tracking software without the consent of computer renters and notice to computer users, and from deceptively collecting and disclosing information about consumers.  […]

    The FTC named DesignerWare, LLC, a company that licensed software to rent-to-own stores to help them track and recover rented computers.  The FTC also reached settlements with seven companies that operate rent-to-own stores and licensed software from DesignerWare, including franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase.

    According to the FTC, DesignerWare’s software contained a “kill switch” the rent-to-own stores could use to disable a computer if it was stolen, or if the renter failed to make timely payments. DesignerWare also had an add-on program known as “Detective Mode” that purportedly helped rent-to-own stores locate rented computers and collect late payments.  DesignerWare’s software also collected data that allowed the rent-to-own operators to secretly track the location of rented computers, and thus the computers’ users.

    When Detective Mode was activated, the software could log key strokes, capture screen shots and take photographs using a computer’s webcam, the FTC alleged.  It also presented a fake software program registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information.

    Data gathered by DesignerWare and provided to rent-to-own stores using Detective Mode revealed private and confidential details about computer users, such as user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home, according to the FTC. […]

    Those named in the FTC’s complaints include DesignerWare, LLC; its principals,  Timothy Kelly and Ronald P. Koller, individually and as officers of DesignerWare, LLC.; Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc.; Watershed Development Corp.; Showplace, Inc., d/b/a Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents, LLC, d/b/a ColorTyme; Red Zone, Inc., d/b/a ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Premier Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures, Inc., d/b/a Premier Rental Purchase.

    The Office of the Illinois Attorney General partnered with the FTC in this investigation.  Today General Lisa Madigan announced the filing of an action against one of the rent-to-own companies that used Detective Mode and that is located in Illinois, Watershed Development Corp.

    Learn more details in the FTC’s announcement.

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