Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal

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Thursday, April 7, 1994



Beacon Journal staff writer

Dale Bennington got more than he bargained for when he bought a computer from Sun Television and Appliances on March 12.

He also got a lot less -- a used machine that had at least one, and as many as three, previous owners.

Bennington, a Timken Co. steelworker from Magnolia in Carroll County, thought he was buying a brand-new, $1,481 computer outfit for his 19-year-old daughter, a student at Stark Technical College.

But when she tried to operate the machine, she found it was loaded with computer games and other software, including several pornographic programs.

One program was an animated cartoon, Nastygirl, depicting a woman masturbating.

"It embarrassed me," said Chandra Bennington, who is majoring in office management. "I'd never seen anything like it."

Her mother, Madeline, was equally shocked.

"I never thought anything like that could be on a computer," she said. "To me, a computer was something for business or learning."

When Dale Bennington tried to operate the machine, he found an even more explicit program -- Twotimer, a short clip from an XXX-rated movie.

The Benningtons complained to officials at Sun on Whipple Avenue near Belden Village in Stark County, where they had bought the computer.

They were told that the programs must have been installed before the machine was shipped to the store because Sun doesn't unseal the boxes before computers are sold.

Looking at the record

The Sun officials asked for the serial number on the computer, a Columbia brand 486DLC model. They said they planned to track the machine to the manufacturer to find out where it had been tampered with.

They should have asked the computer.

It would have told them. That's because computers keep a record of the dates and times when programs are installed on their internal disk drives.

The tale told by the Benningtons' computer was not of a machine tampered with at the plant but of a computer that had been sold previously.

In addition to the XXX-rated graphics and games, the computer sported a large program called VSS -- Video Shop Software -- used to keep track of inventory and customers at a video rental store.

The video store programs not only indicated when the computer had been used (Feb. 20 through Feb. 25), but they also carried the name, address and telephone number of the owner, the Movie Store, 4859 S. Main St., in Green.

Following the trail

A surprised store owner, Kenneth Tichon of Clinton, said he bought two computers from Sun and used one to manage his store for a week. But he said he returned both machines to the store Feb. 26. He has receipts on both transactions.

Tichon said he returned the computers because he had discovered the commercial games, indicating that the computer had been used.

Tichon's wife, Penny, said Sun officials offered to pay them $20 to keep the machine, but they decided on a full refund.

"We wanted something new," Kenneth Tichon said. "You want to get what you paid for."

The information contained in the Benningtons' computer jibes with the Tichons' account. Four commercial games -- Police Quest, StarWars' X-Wing, Lands of Lore and Comanche, each costing about $50 in stores -- had been installed on the machine between Dec. 30 and Jan. 17, about a month before the Tichons' purchase.

More evidence that the computer had been used primarily for recreation was found in two other programs, installed at the same time, which operated a joystick and audio card commonly used to enhance game play.

Tichon said he forgot to delete his store's programs before returning the machine but wasn't worried.

"I assumed they (Sun officials) would do it," he said. "But I also assumed they'd sell it again."

It's impossible to tell whether the machine was sold again before the Benningtons bought it. But it definitely was used by someone.

Both pornographic programs were installed March 5, according to the computer's records. Another game appears March 7, five days before the Benningtons bought the computer.

An official at Sun's headquarters in Columbus was at a loss to explain how an apparently used computer had been sold as new.

"All of our (computers) are sold sealed and all the software is pre-installed by the manufacturer," said Dennis May, the man in charge of buying computers for the giant Sun chain.

If a computer is returned, May said, Sun's policy calls for selling it as an "open-stock floor sample."

"We plan to investigate this completely and fully," May said. "We have offered the customer a complete refund and price adjustment."

Compensation for blushing

Bennington said Sun was willing to give him $50 off the price of a new computer, but he turned the offer down and has consulted a lawyer.

"I don't feel $50 was compensation for the things we were subjected to," Bennington said. Because of the "embarrassment to our daughter and ourselves" caused by the pornographic programs, he suggested, "a fair deal would be for them to give me 50 percent off on a new computer."

Under Ohio law, Bennington has a number of options, said Mark D'Alessandro, chief of the consumer protection section of the state attorney general's office.

D'Alessandro said a consumer can sue a merchant to get a refund or collect three times the amount as damages resulting from "representing something as new when in fact it has some use."

A consumer also can file a complaint with the attorney general's office, he said. "We would attempt to get a resolution that satisfies the consumer."

The attorney general might seek penalties if an investigation determines a store made a practice of selling used items as new.

But D'Alessandro said any "emotional distress" caused by the pornographic programs on the computer would not be covered by the consumer protection law.

"That's something I couldn't get for him," he said. "He'd have to do that on his own" by filing a lawsuit.

Follow ups:

  • Church Also Stuck With Tainted Computer (4/8/94)
  • Sun Pays to Settle Complaints (4/19/94)

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