Consumer Comeback Blog

Rent-To-Own Computers Cyber Spy on Consumers

Consumers have been well-informed about the dangers of identity theft from online and telemarketing scammers, but the Federal Trade Commission uncovered a new predator that consumers were willingly bringing into their own homes.

Rent-to-own appliances, furniture, and electronics have long been a questionable form of consumer credit, with consumers often paying far more in rental fees and interest that exceed the retail value of item. But now, the Federal Trade Commission discovered that seven rent-to-own companies leased computers equipped with invasive illegal software capable of stealing consumers’ identities and even taking webcam photos in consumers’ homes.

The FTC reached a settlement with software design firm DesignerWare, LLC, based on charges that the company supplied software that captured screenshots of confidential and personal information, logged computer keystrokes, and even took photos of unsuspecting computer renters.

The software was supposedly designed to enable rent-to-stores to help them track and recover rented computers. The software was also intended to allow stores to remotely disable computers that had been stolen or for which renters failed to make payments on time.

However, the FTC claims the software was used to gain “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 a FTC press release .

FTC officials and condemned the invasion of privacy.

“An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes,” Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, said in a press release. “The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying.”