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Computer superstore chain PC World is trying to cash in on the fear generated by recent virus outbreaks by advertising an expensive virus screening service. But it doesn't offer permanent protection from malicious code.

PC World, part of the Dixons Group, is running adverts for its £40 Healthcheck service in today's newspapers, including The Sun. It promotes the service as "the quick and easy way to make sure you are virus free".

"Cure viruses you didn't know you had with a Healthcheck," screams the headline on the ad, which filled even us with trepidation.

By the time we got down to the part about 20 per cent of PCs having viruses, "many of them without the owner even knowing," we were quaking in our boots and about to take the office laptop down the road double quick.

After we had a cup of strong tea and calmed down a bit, we decided to check what PC World's MOT for a PC offered.

We had a chat with one of the staff on the Healthcheck hotline and he explained that for their £40 punters get their PCs or laptops screened for viruses and advice on deleting unnecessary files, and that's it really.

What you certainly don't get is any antivirus software, "which you'll probably be asked to buy separately" the man from PC World told us "though you can download this software from the Internet free", he helpfully chipped in.

It gets worse, the virus scanning part of the process runs from a separate PC - which means you're unlikely to pick up memory resident viruses.

A spokeswoman for PC World admitted that permanent protection for viruses isn't provided by a one-off scan and said it recommended Norton Anti-Virus 2001 for this purpose. She said the Dixons' subsidiary was promoting Heathcheck now because the service had been rolled out to all its stores, not because of the security flap about the recent Anna Kournikova virus.

She said the service offered around an hour with a consultant involving a full diagnostic check, a clean-out and advice on improving a PC's speed, perhaps through adding extra memory.

Take this how you will, but Healthcheck looks to us like an overpriced service for the PC illiterate combined with an attempt to flog them extra RAM and AV software. Do yourself a favour and get yourself protected from viruses, most vendors offer free evaluation copies of their software and there's really no good reason to leave yourself vulnerable. ®

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