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Lawsuit alleges rent-to-own company puts 'spyware' on computers

By Steven Z.K. Nickels     May 3, 2011 in Technology
Casper - A Wyoming couple is seeking class action status for their lawsuit against Aaron's Inc., a national rent-to-own company. The suit alleges that a rental computer from Aaron's Casper, Wyoming store had 'spyware' installed on it without their knowledge.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. federal court in Pennsylvania today on behalf of a Wyoming couple alleges that national rent-to-own company Aaron’s Inc., places surveillance devices and/or software on computers it rents to customers without their knowledge. Attorneys for the couple claim this is in violation of federal privacy and technology laws.
Brian and Crystal Byrd, of Casper, Wyoming , allege in the lawsuit that they had paid off the computer, which they had rented from an Aaron’s store in Casper. But two months later, in December 2010, they allege an Aaron’s employee came to their house and tried to repossess the computer, thinking they hadn’t paid for it as agreed. At that time, the lawsuit alleges, the employee showed the couple an unauthorized web-cam image of Mr. Byrd using the computer at home. A subsequent local law enforcement investigation confirmed the electronic surveillance activity, according to the court filing.
The device and/or software the suit names as being used on the Byrd’s computer is PC Rental Agent, which the court filing claims is made by North East, Pennsylvania based Designerware, LLC. The company says on its PC Rental Agent website that the device/software is “legal” and that it is up to the rent-to-own dealer as to whether they inform their customers or not. The website says some dealers do inform customers, but some do not. A man answering the phone at Designerware, LLC had no comment and said to contact Aaron’s.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit include Aaron’s Inc., of Atlanta, Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc., who is the franchisee of the Casper, Wyoming store and DesignerWare, LLC, of North East, Pennsylvania.
According to the complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Erie, Pennsylvania, “It has been the practice and policy of the Aaron’s Defendants to conceal from their customers their ability to remotely access, intercept and monitor customers’ private, personal electronic communications, information, screen shots, keystrokes or images captured on web cams and to further disclose to consumers exactly the kinds of private information and images that can be and were routinely collected, transmitted and stored.”A request for comment from Aspen Way Enterprises, Inc., the franchisee of the Casper Aaron’s store was not immediately returned.
The Byrd’s attorneys seek to have the lawsuit certified as a class action so other Aaron’s U.S. customers who may believe they have been similarly affected by the surveillance devices could join in the suit.
Aaron’s Inc., says on its website they are, “the nation's leader in the sales and lease ownership and specialty retailing of residential and office furniture, consumer electronics, home appliances and accessories, has more than 1,800 Company-operated and franchised stores in 48 states and Canada.”
David Katz, Atlanta attorney for Aaron’s Inc., did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO) an Austin, Texas based national trade, advocacy and lobbying group for the rent-to-own industry, was unable to immediately provide anyone for comment on the lawsuit or to say whether the use of such surveillance devices on rental computers is an industry standard practice.
A civil lawsuit complaint only provides one side of an issue in a legal dispute.
More about Aaron's Rental lawsuit, renttoown, Spyware
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