PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal class action claims that Ascentive, a Philadelphia firm whose commercials advertise "finallyfast.com" software that allegedly speeds up slow computers, "has designed its software to defraud consumers by deceiving them into paying fees to fix fabricated and/or overstated computer problems." The class action comes just after the company agreed to pay Washington State $78,000 to settle allegations of misleading advertising and billing practices.
"In essence, Ascentive falsely identifies computer problems and characterizes them as 'severe' in an attempt to scare consumers into purchasing its software," according to the Philadelphia class action.
In the Washington settlement, Ascentive did not admit to wrongdoing, but agreed to ensure that its advertising and billing practices are clearer for consumers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Jan. 4.
In the new class action, plaintiff Douglas Ledet says Ascentive "engaged in a systematic pattern of fraud and deception through the design of its software products and its advertising practices."
"In the simplest terms, Ascentive always claims that a user has PC errors, regardless of whether they exist of not," the class claims.
Ascentive's most popular software package is PC SpeedScan Pro, which it markets through a variety of websites, including www.fastatlast.com, www.finallyfast.com, www.finallyfastpc.com, www.pcfinallyfast.com, www.scanyourpc.com, and www.escaneorapido.com.
Its other software products include ActiveDefender, ActivePrivacy, ActiveSpeed, PC ScanandSweep, RAMRocket, Spyware Striker Pro, and WINRocket.
Ascentive claims on its websites that its software can instantly remove all computer errors and return a consumer's PC to its original high performance. But Ledet says "the motive behind Ascentive's SpeedScan Pro software is far more sinister."
"Ascentive's modus operandi is to offer a 'free diagnosis' to anyone who owns a computer. Regardless of whether errors are actually present on a consumer's PC, Ascentive's software invariably indicates, in an extremely threatening manner, that dozens of 'Severe' errors exist. Ascentive then offers to remove these fabricated errors, in exchange for $29.95," the complaint states.
Compounding the fraud, Ledet says, customers are made to inadvertently sign up for a yearly recurring subscription service.
"Ascentive does not conspicuously disclose this information, and Ascentive stifles consumer attempts to reverse these undesired charges," the complaint states.
Ledet says Ascentive also surreptitiously installs an additional application called the "'Ascentive Performance Center' onto the consumer's PC."
"This application, installed without permission of the user, is designed to conduct ongoing 'scans' of the consumer's PC and recommend the purchase of additional software from Ascentive," the complaint states. "These recommendations are displayed in exasperating excess, usually in the form of ominous 'pop-ups.' These pop-up warnings supposedly alert the user about errors or nefarious spyware that is on the consumer's PC and requires immediate action by the consumer."
Ledet says "the Ascentive Performance Center is little more than a marketing ploy by Ascentive to induce consumers to purchase its other products."
In a particularly damning section of the complaint, Ledet says: "Through his attorneys, plaintiff has employed independent cyber security experts to investigate Ascentive's software. The results of these tests have further unmasked the fraud being perpetrated by Ascentive.
"After a fresh installation of Windows 7 on a clean virtual PC, never connected to the Internet, SpeedScan Pro detected twenty-two (22) 'severe' errors on the pristine, unused PC. After purchasing the software and running the 'fix' for these errors, a subsequent scan revealed that zero (0) errors existed on the PC. However, and illustrative of the fraud being committed by Ascentive, after simply uninstalling and reinstalling SpeedScan Pro, Ascentive's software then indicated that ten (10) additional errors existed on the PC."
Ledet seeks statutory and punitive damages, declaratory and injunctive relief for breach of contract, breach of express warranties, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
Lead counsel is David Senoff with Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Conboy.
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