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Those pesky pop-ups warning your computer may have a virus are actually "scareware" aimed at making people buy anti-virus products whether they need them or not, a Symantec lawsuit claims.
A computer user in Washington state is suing Symantec Corp., the maker of Norton Utilities and PC Tools, for fraud, Reuters reports. The suit seeks class-action status.
Symantec, based in Mountain View, Calif., distributes free trial versions of its anti-virus software that supposedly scans computers for risks. But the free Symantec trials seem to always identify errors and risks, even when no risks exist, the Symantec lawsuit claims.
The suit calls Symantec's products "scareware" -- a type of malicious software that produces pop-up warnings about security risks.
"The truth, however, is that the scareware does not actually perform any meaningful evaluation of the user's computer system, or of the supposed 'errors' detected by the software," the Symantec lawsuit claims.
The suit asserts fraud, claiming Symantec misled customers into believing they had to buy its products to "fix" the nonexistent problems. It seeks damages for anyone who's purchased Norton or PC Tools software.
Fraud is a broad term that describes an intentional deception for monetary gain. In a civil fraud case, penalties are generally meant to punish the perpetrator and compensate for the victim's harm.
But if Symantec can prove it didn't intend to defraud customers -- perhaps it didn't know its software was ineffective -- the company may have a defense.
Untold numbers of computer users have been taken by the alleged scam, the Symantec lawsuit asserts. Sales of Symantec's consumer products, including Norton and PC Tools, grew to $2 billion in the company's latest report, according to Reuters.