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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Attorneys Eye Free PC Offers

NEW YORK -- Attorneys general in several states have stepped up scrutiny of free PC offers, which are now under "formal review" as part of a broader investigation of Internet service providers' marketing and disclosure policies, a leading state investigator says.

In addition, the New York State Attorney General's Office issued a warning about the offers to consumers on its web site last Friday, reminding them "there is no such thing as a free lunch."

The formal multistate review of a wide range of free PC advertisements represents deeper scrutiny of the offers by a task force of attorneys general.

Previously, states and the Federal Trade Commission said they were monitoring the ads. But complaints have been mounting, said Jack Norris, chief of multistate litigation for the Florida attorney general's office.

In addition, Norris said while the task force has not discussed whether to hold retailers responsible in promoting the offers, "that doesn't mean we wouldn't. It's a logical extension if we find anything. ... We haven't ruled that out."

States are examining the offers to determine whether they have "the capacity or the tendency to mislead the public," Norris said. "We have had complaints ... and we're trying to gather as many [of the ads] as possible."

While stopping short of accusing Internet providers of wrongdoing, states are weighing "the full impact of the ads," against consumer claims that ISPs may not be fully servicing them, Norris said. Some were "not able to get assistance to stay online," while others had problems with their free PC. He declined to name participating states, though officials in California and Pennsylvania have acknowledged their participation in the broader ISP inquiry.