Rent-to-Own Outfit Allegedly Spied on PC Customers with Webcams

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It looks like rent-to-own retailer Aaron’s Inc. may have stepped in it–or at least stepped all over its customers’ privacy rights.

According to the legal firm representing a Casper, Wyoming couple, rental outfit “can secretly monitor ‘rent-to-own’ computer customers’ electronic communications in violation of federal privacy and technology laws.”

File under “Oh no they didn’t”?

Oh yes they did, claims the lawsuit. It seems someone from Aaron’s Inc. came to the home of Brian and Crystal Byrd on December 22, 2010 and attempted to repossess their leased computer, claiming the Byrds were in default (the Byrds claim they weren’t).

Here’s where it gets sinister: While there, the Aaron’s rep allegedly produced a webcam image of Brian Byrd using his computer while at home. No doubt shocked, the Byrds contacted local law enforcement, who investigated and “confirmed electronic surveillance activity.”

The complaint alleges “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 webcams and to further disclose to consumers exactly the kinds of private information and images that can be and were routinely collected, transmitted and stored.”

Aarons Inc. allegedly uses a software tool and web service called PC Rental Agent, marketed to rent-to-own retailers as a way to remotely manage RTO computer and “disable [the] product when a customer skips or is not paying.”

What’s next? A class action lawsuit, looks like. The law firms involved have put up a page soliciting calls from other Aaron’s Inc. computer customers for a “free case evaluation.”