updated 1/12/2012 3:16:12 PM ET 2012-01-12T20:16:12

The anti-virus vendor Symantec has been formally accused of employing devious scareware tactics to trick customers into paying for software they don't need.

On Tuesday (Jan. 10), James Gross filed a class action lawsuit in a California Federal court claiming that Symantec defrauds its customers by running fake anti-virus scans on their machines, Courthouse News reported. The results, Gross alleges, are rigged to convince users their computers are in danger and need to be protected with the paid version of Symantec's products.

In a statement, Symantec said the lawsuit lacks merit.

In the suit, Gross singled out three Symantec products: PC Tools Registry Mechanic, PC Tools Performance Toolkit and Norton Utilities, and said each comes with a free diagnostic scan that warns consumers, "in alarmist fashion," that harmful threats exist on their computers.

[Do You Really Need to Pay for Anti-Virus Software?]

"Once the Scareware's scan is complete," Gross claims, "the user is presented with its results in an extremely menacing fashion. For example, the displayed lettering is red and bolded, the screen contains warnings that errors need immediate repair, or that they are slowing down the computer, or exposing the user's privacy."

"Next the Scareware offers to 'fix' some of the detected errors, but requires the user to purchase the full, registered version of the software to fully 'fix' the identified computer problems," Gross said.

This is where Symantec's actions become illegal, Gross contends. He claims the three offensive Symantec's products always report that the computer's "system's health is low," and that "high priority errors exist on the system." In effect, the free diagnostic scan is Symantec's way of scaring consumers into buying a product to fix a problem that, according to Gross, doesn't exist.

"The Scareware does not actually perform any meaningful evaluation of the user's computer system, or of the supposed 'errors' detected by the software," he said. "Moreover, the Scareware does not, and cannot, actually perform the valuable tasks represented by Symantec through its websites, advertising, and in-software display screens."

Symantec countered Gross' claims, and said, "Several independent third parties have tested and reviewed these products very favorably, verifying the effectiveness of their functionality," according to a statement obtained by  Computerworld.

Gross, a Washington State resident, seeks punitive damages for unfair competition, breach of warranty, fraud and unjust enrichment.

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