Rent-To-Own Companies Busted Using Tracking Software To Spy On Customers

For years, we’ve been warning consumers about rent-to-own electronics businesses because they usually end up costing customers a heck of a lot more money in the long term. Now there is another reason to avoid them: The Federal Trade Commission has caught seven rent-to-own companies installing tracking software on computers to do everything from tracking their locations to capturing screenshots of confidential info to secretly snapping photos of customers.

“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,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

According to the FTC complaint, a software firm called DesignerWare created programs to be used by the rent-to-own companies. The main feature of the software was a “kill switch,” which would allow the companies to remotely shut down computers if the device was stolen or if the customer didn’t make payments.

But what really crossed the line, says the agency, is the software’s “Detective Mode” that went far beyond just tracking the location of a computer.

From the FTC:

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

Thus, the FTC alleges, DesignerWare’s provided the rent-to-own stores with access to confidential info like usernames 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.

Among the businesses alleged to have participated in the illegal tracking and snooping are franchisees of rent-to-own chains Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase.