The company whose late-night commercials promised to "make your computer run fast the way it's supposed to," will pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and refunds to settle charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising.
In a settlement with the Washington State attorney general's office, Ascentive, best known for its FinallyFast.com Web site, will pay $78,000 in penalties and offer $17.90 refunds to thousands of its Washington State customers who purchased the company's PC cleanup products but did not use them.
At FinallyFast.com, PC users download software that tests their system for any performance bottlenecks and then offers to clean things up -- for a fee. Consumers complained that the software didn't work as advertised and that Ascentive racked up charges without properly notifying customers.
According to Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein, the company was peddling scareware -- software that always found severe problems no matter what the condition of the computer being scanned. "They basically crossed the line in terms of advertising to consumers," he said.
Bernstein's office has a list of complaints against Ascentive, which echo consumer grievances that can be found online.
In court documents, the Washington attorney general's office said that until March 2009, Ascentive's free scan software came with adware and endless, annoying pop-up warnings that exaggerated problems on the computer. "The free scan categorizes everything that it identifies as an 'error,'" the filings state.
Customers who wanted to cancel their subscriptions were forced though a cumbersome process and finally had to respond to an e-mail message before their accounts would actually be closed. The company has now agreed to fix the way it advertises and bills for its products, Bernstein said.
Ascentive sued Google in June 2009 after the search engine company began refusing to run advertisements for its products. It dropped the suit a month later, and Google is again running ads for Finallyfast.com.
Ascentive could not be reached for comment.
However, it looks like the company has made a lot of money. Ascentive claims there have been more than 20 million downloads of its free scans. In a YouTube video interview with Ascentive CEO Adam Schran, filmed on Richard Branson's Necker Island Caribbean resort, Schran describes how he's enjoying the money he's made with the company, "It's important to spoil yourself along the way," he says. "Treat yourself to trips to Necker Island or a local spa or massage. Whatever is fun."