At the height of the Great Recession, I needed new anti-virus software for my computer. A survey in PC Magazine indicated that Avast was one of the better ones out there, plus free subscriptions were available.
I bit. I downloaded.
For a long time, it was. The glowing orange sphere (complete with lower-case a) that adorned the bottom right-hand corner of my monitor's screen was a friendly and reassuring reminder that my computer was being protected.
Updates were both regular and free. Scans appeared rigorous. Threats were detected and removed. Despite the heavy usage the computer received from two users in the midst of desperate job hunts, Avast kept it clean and functioning.
Eventually, I moved to a paid subscription. Like all good consumers, I believed that if free was good, paid just had to be better.
And again, Avast seemed to be doing the job. But there were clouds on the horizon (which might have had something to do with the sun-like graphic disappearing).
The first change was in the scans. After a point, the only potentially harmful condition they could identify was that I hadn't purchased enough Avast software. There was never a report, an indication of any harmful malware, etc. Just fluff about weak passwords and file conversion software that hadn't been updated.
And all I had to do about those was open my wallet.
Then one day I discovered my computer was infected. It took a $200 visit to a repair facility to clean it up. That was strike one.
Strike two occurred when, in the course of pursuing a fix for a technical issue, I discovered Avast had double-billed me the same month I cleared-out and prepared my parent's house for sale, moved, oversaw three separate sets of tax returns all while caring for a sick mate and working.
Strike three arrived just minutes later, when an Avast staffer named “Helen” informed me that despite having my license number and purchase ID, I would not be getting my anti-virus package (which had been accidentally deleted) re-installed until I signed on for a $79.99 computer repair to fix fourteen issues she had discovered.
Despite a complete absence of food or drink in or around my esophagus, I began to choke.
When the choking subsided, I asked “Helen” if she knew what extortion was. I asked why I should pay $79.99 to do what my paid subscription should have been doing for a quarter of that. I asked how many people fell for this, and how badly they were injured in the process.
The play on words was lost on “Helen”, who for lack of alternatives stuck to the script and grimly recited what I needed to do. “You have fourteen issues on your computer. You need to fix them before you can have your anti-virus back.”
“Yes, but for the second time shouldn't my software package have prevented those?”
There was a sigh. “We will reduce it to $49.99. But that is final negotiation. No more”
“Helen, leave my computer alone. Don't touch a thing” I rasped.
With my vocal cords straining like Donald Trump's credibility, I inquired of “Helen” one more time: “So what do I need to do to get a refund on the overcharge?”
From the Avast web site I composed a heated e-mail detailing what I wanted, and why. Shockingly, there was no response. Nor has there been in the nine days since.
Thankfully, my credit card company was able to file a dispute and credit the charge. And I was able to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office.
In PC Magazine's most-recent survey of the best Internet protection packages, Avast ranked a very middling 25th.
That sounds about right.