Seven rent-to-own companies secretly monitored and remotely controlled customers’ rented PCs – captured users’ intimate moments

// September 25th, 2012 // Hacking and Security

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Aaron's Rental CompanyIt comes as no surprise that rent-to-own companies can be a little… seedy. Seven rent-to-own companies, comprising 1,617 stores in the United States and Canada, and a software developer based in Pennsylvania, have settled federal charges that they used spyware to remotely monitor their customers who rented personal computers. The software, Detective Mode (referenced as PC Rental Agent in the federal complaint), was developed by Pennsylvania based DesignerWare and licensed to the rent-to-own companies including franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase.  The software allowed rental companies to monitor geographical locations, usernames and passwords, and included a keystroke logger. Store managers could also use the software to remotely control the rented personal computers, including turning on webcams to monitor the users’ behavior.

FTC investigators found logs of customers’ usernames and passwords for email accounts, social networks, and financial institutions. Additional private data found included social security numbers, medical records, private emails, and bank and credit card statements. Webcam footage was also recovered including video shot of children, customers not fully clothed, and customers engaged in sexual activities.

PC Rental Agent also gave store managers the ability to inject fake registration pages for companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo. The customer could not continue to use the rented computer until the information was entered and submitted through the fake registration pages. Information entered into these fake pages was subsequently emailed to rent-to-own companies presumably to be used to collect money from renters who were behind on their bill.

Under the settlement agreement that was reached today, the rent-to-own companies have agreed to curb their data-collecting activities on rental PCs, which is estimated to have been deployed on as many as 420,000 rental PCs.  The companies can still use the software to monitor customers, but they are required to notify customers beforehand.

According to Wired Magazine:

“Under the settlement, the companies can still use tracking software on their rental computers, so long as they advise renters, the FTC said. The companies include Aspen Way Enterprises Inc.; Watershed Development Corp.; Showplace Inc., doing business as Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents LLC, doing business as ColorTyme; Red Zone Inc., doing business as ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase.”

The FTC noted that they do not have criminal authority, only civil authority.

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The complete FTC complaint can be viewed here.

Sources: Wired Magazine
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