All The Computer Tech Needed To Do Was Reconnect A Power Cable. Cost? $59.99, $69.99, $119.99 and $275!

KCAL did an undercover camera investigation to which computer repair places were incompetent/scammers. They took perfectly working computers and just disconnected the cable from the hard drive to the motherboard, then took the computers to different repair shops to see what they said.

The results were varied and shocking:

Best Buy: Said needed a new power supply
Circuit City: $59.99 “The jumper was set wrong”
COMPUsa: Charged $119.99, their minimum charge, but correctly diagnosed and fixed the problem
Fry’s: $69.99, fixed all good
Torrence Computer Repair (local): Fixed, at no charge b/c it was so easy
BM (local)I: $275 due to “power short,” as the “main board” and “hard drive” were “bad”

Shady computer repairmen are the new shady mechanics, the creative can find plenty of profit in unexpected places.

If your computer starts smoking, you might be better off getting a referral from friends for a local tech known for honest dealings. — BEN POPKEN

HowTo Give Computer Techs a Bad Name [Daily Cup of Tech]

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  1. Falconfire says:

    yep, couldnt agree more.

    I couldnt tell you how many in our field are completely clueless or worse, cheat on purpose. There are plenty of good techs out there, but you should always ask your friends.

    I haven’t charged more than 50 dollars of labor on anyones computers, and I routinely do it for free if I know they dont have the money, or its just so simple to be stupid (like this one was)

  2. DashTheHand says:

    Theres big money to be made as more and more non-technical people NEED to use computers. What I’d like to know is if those people that diagnosed the incorrect problems were really that incompetent or if they were knowingly scamming the people out of more money for things they knew were not defective.

    Of course, this has been going on for ages with auto dealerships.

  3. no name says:

    I also have to agree on the idea of asking a friend who knows what they are doing to take a look at it first. Even if you can’t get a friend to fix it, you should at least ask for a recommendation as to a good computer repair place.

    Best Buy used to have good service, but lately they have seemed to just be going downhill.

  4. parrott_b says:

    I’m the local computer repair guy at my local bar (hole in the wall). I starting doing some work to convine the owner to get a Golden Tee machine. I know work on all kinds of peoples machines that they bring in and make local home visits. It has substantially reduced my bar bills. I also help with all the new gadgets for the owner (dvr’s for security cameras, digital juke boxes erc.) which allows me to eat and drink free or very cheaply regually. And if I dont fix it its no big deal. I apparently need to to go start my own company like BM. Sheesh

  5. dbeahn says:

    I’m not a “business man” kinda guy, but when I see this kind of thing, I can’t help but think I should hang up my own little shingle.

  6. Moosehawk says:

    This kind of customer service is complete crap, but the reason they can charge prices like this is because of simple supply and demand.

    There’s little supply of techs out there (compared to computer ignorant users), so the price rises with demand. It’s sad that they can charge this much, but it makes sense.

    I usually only charge $50 to fix anyone’s computer problems depending on the difficulty or time needed to fix it. Small problems like this would have been free.

  7. Secularsage says:

    My laptop’s LCD stopped working properly a few months back, and I took it to a local repair shop (Computer Room, in Fairview Heights, IL), where they didn’t even LOOK at my PC before telling me that I would need to replace my screen entirely for $99 plus parts (and, presumably, expenses). This was based entirely on my description of the problem and no physical examination. They told me I had to acquire the screen myself. The guy at the counter seemed more interested in getting me out of the store than helping me, despite the fact that he’d made me wait around 10 minutes while he helped a woman who needed everything explained to her twice.

    The concerned me, so I had a friend of mine who knows a little bit about laptop repair check out the problem. He opened it up, tightened in the monitor cable connection, and the computer worked fine from that point forward.

    Sad that a business specializing in computer repair turned down the chance to make $100 off me for such an easy fix…

  8. DrRyanSullivan says:

    Hopefully this will lead more consumers just to go to the neighbor’s kid. Hell, I could have found this problem when I was 12 years old, and I might have charged $10 so I could throw some money in my bank account.

  9. Coder4Life says:

    GO COMPUSA!!!!

  10. Scazza says:

    @DashTheHand: Theres no physical way they were just incompetent and did not notice. Turning on the comp woulda given an error that would have made it obvious that the HD was not working. A quick check at it would be way too obvious that the power cable wasn’t hooked up.

    Unless these guys never saw a computer before, there is no excuse to do that. They were scamming, plain and simple.

  11. Coder4Life says:

    Test…

  12. Scazza says:

    btw, for ANYONE who has any sort of computer problems, big or small. Head to your local internet-enabled library and just google the problem. There is nothing you cannot find on google. I ran a successful computer repair business for 6 months on the fact that I could google ANY problem I was not able to fix myself. Never ran into a problem I couldn’t fix after that. Why spend 60-120 bucks just to have someone look at it?

  13. Sharkkmann says:

    The sad part is that CompUSA is closing down.

  14. SadSam says:

    Seems to me that any repair shop that takes your comuter should be entitled to charge for the repair even if its just plugging something back in. Seems like computer repair folks should set some minimum fee for taking receipt of the computer and opening it up, it is a business and I think the folks should be able to charge for their time.

  15. RumorsDaily says:

    @SadSam: I don’t think the issue was the fees, I think the issue was the lying to the customer about the problem in order to justify the fees.

  16. Gannoc says:


    I’m tired of reading articles like this.

    You’re not paying for the effort to plug in a cable, you’re paying for the knowledge and experience of knowing that the cable needs to be plugged in.

    Do you expect them to say “Gosh, that was easy. We’ll just do it for free!”

    If you call in a plumber to unclog your sink, and it does it in 10 minutes with a plunger, you’re still going to get charged $100, even though the job was “easy”.

    If the electrician only has to replace an outlet, you’re going to get charged $100, even if you could do it yourself in 10 minutes for $3.

    How come computer repair gets all of this criticism?

    (Not counting the ones that lied, of course)

  17. Moosehawk says:

    @DashTheHand:

    These techs were scamming the customers. There’s no way these people would have been hired if they didn’t know that basic of a problem. A simple physical check of connections after an obvious error on POST would have solved it.

    It’s way too easy to scam people that have that little knowledge about computers. When these people walk in with their computers and every sentence is a question, it’s blatant that they don’t know what they’re doing so they try to haggle them for more money than the solution is worth.

  18. mendel says:

    If you call in a plumber to unclog your sink, and it does it in 10 minutes with a plunger, you’re still going to get charged $100, even though the job was “easy”.

    Sure, but I expect the plumber to tell me that I’m paying $100 for him to unclog the sink with a plunger. If he told me I was paying $100 or $200 to replace the drain when all he did was use a plunger, he’d be scamming me too.

  19. Moosehawk says:

    @Gannoc:

    Because those other examples you showed are doing housecalls.

    These techs at places like geeksquad are hardly getting up from their desk to talk to you.

  20. superlayne says:

    That’s it. I’m taking a summer course in computers.

    And not the lame, out-dated business-letter formatting mess I had to do in 9th grade.

  21. Starfury says:

    I used to do repairs for free, but found myself being constantly asked questions or having to rid the same computer of spyware for the 3rd time. I went to school and earned a Comp Sci degree, got an A+ cert and have many years of general experience. Now I charge $50/hr for my services for the general public; my family will get limited free support.

    Referring to this news story: Any of these “techs” should have been able to figure the problem and then put the cable back on and not charged. The last store that wanted $275 is a rip off.

  22. atonse says:

    @Gannoc:

    I don’t think anyone’s complaining about the fact that the customer’s charged for a CORRECTLY diagnosed and fixed problem. The complaints are about how customers were overcharged for a misdiagnosed result.

    The part where the local shop fixed it for free is just an example of customer service that goes above and beyond. I used to work at Best Buy (pre-geek squad) and routinely upgraded memory (otherwise $35) for free in 5 minutes, instead of taking it in overnight.

    You’d be amazed the sort of trust you can build with your clients by just doing something like that, instead of swindling them to get a quick buck.

    If I wanted, I could’ve diagnosed a subsequent problem and overcharged them, and they would’ve paid – but I wouldn’t. Building trust leads to a much longer (and more lucrative) relationship with a client, REGARDLESS of the industry.

    My point is, the case where the local repair shop did it for free, isn’t a rule, it’s the exception. I’m sure the customer would’ve happily paid even if they charged $50, as long as CORRECT service was rendered.

  23. ARPRINCE says:

    @Starfury:
    my family will get limited free support.

    I’m glad I’m not in your family.

  24. Scuba Steve says:

    @ARPRINCE: Yeah because then they’d be asking you for help.

  25. juri squared says:

    @mendel: Agreed. We were charged $100 for a 30 second fix of our furnace – there was a dead bird in it.

    We gladly paid it because they came out on an emergency basis (it was the dead of winter) and we didn’t have the proper tools to get to the part where the bird was. Did we feel pretty dumb? Yes. But the tech was honest, up-front, and even gave us some great advice on how to get more life out of our beat-up old furnace. We’ll definitely do business with them again.

    Just because the solution is simple to someone who has training and tools doesn’t mean it’s simple to everyone else. We pay for that expertise.

  26. Coder4Life says:

    @Gannoc:

    If you read the article it is talking about how a cable was unplugged. But they told the customers that the board was bad, or they needed a new power supply and other stuff.

    Take for example a car repair shop:

    Your car is shaking on the right side, and lets say your tire is bad for some reason. But you go into the dealer and they tell you that you need: “new tires”, “new shocks”.

    The car dealer knew only the tire was bad but hey what do you know… why not replace or not replace a bunch of crap and just charge the customer..

    That is what happened here.. If that helps.. :)

  27. Matthew says:

    Is this anchor drunk?

  28. NCSU says:

    Just any FYI — at circuit city the diagnostic cost to take in a computer and look at it is $59.99, period. So, if the customer was charged only $59.99 that means they paid for a full system diagnostic, which it appears they received, and the technician fixed the computer at no extra cost. That doesn’t seem shady to me.

  29. jgross says:

    it’s a shame that the only ‘big box’ store that fixed it right was CompUSA, and they’re going under.

    lesson learned? don’t run a business honestly if you want to make a profit!

  30. erock0 says:

    These stories are puff pieces for local news to make it seem like they care about people. What they do is practically entrapment and the anchor makes it seem like he is so innocent. If something is wrong with your car, it doesn’t matter who you take it to, every mechanic will charge differently and get the car running. It may not be done like a textbook, but it will get done. It’s easy to feel superior to tech when you shove a camera in their face and out them on the spot.

  31. spanky says:

    @erock0:

    Are you missing the fact that several of the techs were lying to the customer, or are you defending fraudulent practices? (I can’t fathom anyone being so incompetent that that was an honest mistake.)

    The places that charged a minimum are one thing. Those charges are excessive, and it’d be nice if they had some leeway to charge $5 or $10 when a problem turns out to be something simple like this. But it’s a defensible practice, as long as the customer is informed.

    It’s the lying that’s the indefensible part.

  32. tedyc03 says:

    @ erock0:

    I agree that different mechanics will have different rates for their work. Even their parts might cost differently. But here, it’s a matter of the diagnosis: while I think that CompUSA and Circut City can solve the problem and charge an amount reasonably, when you go to a mechanic you would expect that if one says your alternator is bad, every other mechanic will agree.

    Here there were outrageous frauds: Torrence Computer Repair being the worst, and Best Buy not being much better.

  33. lucidpsyche says:

    To be clear: KCAL probably had about triple the footage they actually used in the investigation. They’re not “out to get” techs; they’re just trying to fill their broadcast. This is soft news, and was probably used on a slow news day.

    Just a small nitpick (since I live in the area) — it’s Torrance (with an “a”), not “Torrence.”

  34. adambadam says:

    It is the modern car repair shop. You have to find a mechanic you trust and hope they are not ripping you off — and it is always better if you can have a tech-savvy friend help you out.

  35. PlanetExpressdelivery says:

    I recently replaced a power supply in my computer. I have over 5 years of limited tech support (among friends and family), and I almost always fix my own computer problems.

    The problems that are discussed in this piece have to do with a misdiagnosis. This is about the same as a doctor charging you thousands of dollars extra for an unnecessary procedure. That means one of two thing; they lied, or this simply performed their job pretty damn poorly.

    Best Buy can’t claim that the power supply was shorted, computers simply DON’T TURN ON in this situation.

    Fry’s, Circuit City, and COMPUSA correctly fixed the problem (albeit for a rather large fee), BUT Circuit City tried to give the run around explanation as to why the repair was so damn expensive.

    The BM local store flat out tried to rip off a customer, and proceeded to lie about their actions immediatly after. There’s no excuse for that.

    Believe me, simple computer problems such as this require only a couple of minutes of work. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the procedure should be performed for free, but the fees that were charged were borderline criminal. Once again, the main problem lies in the misdiagnosis. Either they simply don’t know what they’re doing, or they know all too well what they are doing.

  36. puka_pai says:

    And Torrance wasn’t the local ripoff joint, BM was. Torrance was the one who fixed it for free. Don’t tar them when they don’t deserve it.

  37. harleymcc says:

    But if you don’t take your system in, how can the techs get porn?

  38. seanh012 says:

    Businesses need minimum charges to take these things in. The ones who lied should be exposed, but why imply that all the places should just fix this for free because its just a disconnected cable?

    I have to charge the minimum fee because of the hassle of stopping everything I’m doing to figure out what the hell is going on with your disconnected cable. If you don’t like the charge, then please go fuck yourself and preferably die.

  39. Otto-Reimer says:

    On the other end of this, when I was a designer at Hell, I got into a heated debate with marketing and accounting. They wanted me to remove the Tech Support phone number from the printed manuals.

    The Hellions: “They can get the number from our Dell apps pre-installed.”

    “What if the computer doesn’t boot?” – me

    Silence.

    I left for dotcom gold shortly there after.

  40. jurgis says:

    Stuff like this is partly correct… and partly sensationalist.

    I’m not a PC tech, but I have been building my own PCs since I was 13 (over ten years) and had the (mis)fortune to help out a friends “repair business” one summer.

    I can’t tell you how many people would bring in an aging, dust caked PeoplePC or eMachine and tell you to fix it: upgrade the OS, add memory, etc. You could tell them that it would cost $300 plus to do everything they want: save off personal files, etc. You could tell them that you could just build them a new box for $1000… and they would just say “just do what I want”.

    Of course, when you found that their motherboard needed some ancient DIMMS and half of the ones you had in stock didn’t work… and their CD drive didn’t work properly… and their soundcard shorts out and restarts the box…

    That’s the problem with “free estimates”, this guys business went under because he would look at and estimate repairs/upgrades to any PC.

    It’s pretty weak to expect stuff like that, so having to pay $59 or so for even a simple fix is just the way it goes.

  41. erock0 says:

    @spanky
    were you there when this happened? the news channel has final editing in this piece so they can make us believe whatever they want us to. i could make a piece like this making dali lama look bad.

  42. nuton2wheels says:

    Case in point: If you don’t know how to do something simple and aren’t resourceful enough to find the answer through friends, you’re going to get ripped off.

    I knew of a computer shop in my hometown that ran a scam like this. They somehow managed to weasel their way into the campus bookstores of several public universities before managing to go pets-up and bankrupt before the dot-bomb crash. I had a good laugh about that.

  43. As an employee of a large company that does computer repairs (not Best Buy), it’s a little insulting to see that comparison of computer technicians to dishonest mechanics. In a way it’s the same, yes, but the simple fact is, you’re not paying for the effort it takes us in most cases, you’re paying for your computer taking up space on our tech bench and the time it takes us to fix the problem, and you’re paying for someone with more knowledge than you on a particular subject to help you with that knowledge. The same is true for doctors, lawyers, accountants, and many many more occupations.

    For Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Fry’s, what some people probably don’t realize is that those places simply charged a diagnostic fee, which anyone must pay to even have someone look at a computer. This is standard and generally considered perfectly acceptable among customers.

    As far as the “misdiagnosis” goes, I wouldn’t say those techs were incompetent, but probably just wanted to seem smarter than they are. “A jumper set wrong” sounds a lot more technical than “oh, a cable was loose.” Even when all it took was 30 seconds of deduction, we like to sound like heroes.

  44. Twitch says:

    Fixed a friend of a friends computer with a very similar problem. (cable came loose from aux power connector on their video card) I charged my normal rate ($50/hour – 1 hour minimum) and when I explained to him what the problem was, he thought it was kind of a rip off to charge him so much for what I did.

    Once I explained that I only charged him $1.00 to plug the cable in, and $49.00 for the expertise to know which cable was loose, he calmed down a bit.

    I think that’s why some places make it sound worse that it is, so people feel better about paying $70 bucks for someone to plug a cable in. Most common issue for tech’s is to think that their customers know about this stuff as much as they do. 9 times out of ten, they’re just happy you fixed it and don’t really care what the problem was.

  45. EtherealStrife says:

    Uh I don’t know what the big deal is over the people who properly diagnosed the problem. It may be a pisser for the customer, but they have a properly working computer now which they did not have before spending the 119.99 or whatever. I had a similar experience with a blown fuse in my car, where the replacement of a $2 part cost me almost $100. If you can’t find the problem, you pay someone more experienced to find it and fix it for you. Deal with it. That’s the way the world works. The Torrence place figures they’ll get you for other stuff when you go back to their trustworthy establishment, so they comp it. Different business practices, same quest for profit.

    @Twitch:
    Once I explained that I only charged him $1.00 to plug the cable in, and $49.00 for the expertise to know which cable was loose, he calmed down a bit.
    A buck to plug a cable in? Rip off! :)

  46. Kloud says:

    Interesting how the Geek Squad tech took out the power supply and was waving it around. If I was the tech in that position I would have consulted the customer before taking his computer apart to replace parts, because he may want to take it somewhere else or buy the parts himself ;)

  47. twstinkers says:

    I think it is deplorable that people try to scam unsuspecting customers. The part that really stinks is how they treat you like a moron and straight out lie. It’s one thing to overcharge but it adds insult to injury when they lie to the customer. And I guess people are getting fed up with lies from everywhere.

  48. AndyFromTucson says:

    Many repairmen/tradespeople of all sorts (not just computers) will try to get the most revenue possible from unsophisticated consumers. Here are the ways I try to minimize the problem:

    1. Try to understand and diagnose the problem yourself as much as possible so you can talk semi-intelligently about it.

    2. Always get estimates/bids from multiple people if you are at all uncomfortable with the price you are quoted. I could tell a lot of stories where Vendor #1 said problem X would cost a fortune to fix, and another vendor either told me I had no problem, or it could be fixed for 10% of Vendor #1’s price. Sometimes the difference is astounding.

    3. Always talk to the technician who did the actual work/diagnosis (not just the front counter person), and ask them to show you the bad part, explain exactly whats wrong, and discuss what alternative solutions are available (including doing nothing). Always say you want the “bad” parts delivered to you when the work is done. For some reason, many people have trouble being dishonest when you get into details. Once doing this on a car “that needs a new engine block” turned the needed repair into replacing one seal.

  49. hop says:

    best buy sucketh…..and….i wish they would open a Torrence in this area………….

  50. maciejb says:

    I certainly trust my Suzuki dealership over the local Best Buy!

  51. spanky says:

    @erock0:

    Well, yes. If the footage is edited or dubbed to make it appear that the techs are saying something they’re not, then you’ve got a point. Also if it turns out that we are all just brains in vats somewhere.

    But assuming some base reality, at least two of those guys outright lied.

  52. Starfury says:

    @ARPRINCE:

    When the SAME in-laws call week after week after week with the SAME questions and the SAME spyware re-installed on their PC after being told NOT to install it I give up. My (limited) free time is too important to spend it fixing their PC (again) for free. Especially when it involves an hour or more of travel time and then the time to fix the problem.

  53. TVarmy says:

    I drive out to my customers. If they have a problem I can fix in under 15 minutes, I just charge them $5 or so for the gas and trouble of going out to their houses to fix such a small problem. It may be selfish, but small jobs add up after a while after all that driving.

  54. TVarmy says:

    @EtherealStrife: I do brain-dead repairs for nearly free because I feel it’s unethical to charge a lot for a simple task that takes almost no effort and takes less than 5 minutes to solve. Not every business will do anything for profit.

  55. shdwsclan says:

    HA
    Well, thats corporate america for ya…

  56. Android8675 says:

    Lets see, you disconnect a power connecter on your computer and can’t figure out why the computer isn’t working, someone quotes you X dollars to fix it, you find the best price and go for it.

    I don’t see the problem here, given the prices quoted above. I guess everyone isn’t exactly on the same page, go with the best deal and if the computer is fixed, great! Hopefully most consumers are smart enough to shop around for the best prices, and hopefully

    the Geek Squad HQ in Santa Clara is setup like this, you walk in with a broken computer, $199 (they rarely look at it), in 2-3 days they call you to say it’s fixed.

    Hopefully they correctly diagnose and tell you the problem at the end, but the reason you take a computer to someone to have it fixed is because you can’t do it yourself. If you don’t want to pay what they quote you then take it to someone else. Time is “money”. I don’t think most computer techs are there to help you for free, most have paying customers to deal with. It was nice that that one company was willing to give you a freebie, but I guarantee that they are praying you’ll tell your friends and come back and buy something else from them, but you WON’T because you’re doing a sting operation, and have no intention of any return business. (luckily this article is some good free advertising for them)

    So why do you think businesses are trying to get so much money out of you the first time you come into their store? There are pessimistic and optimistic answers to this question. I could elaborate, but I don’t feel like it.

  57. ifrog says:

    If you watch the video, you can see that there are additional problems with the dell. When I took computer repair in high school we worked on similar machines, and often had to throw them out due to failure of various parts. When I worked for compusa we checked for disconnected or tampered with connections (we saw a lot of fraud). I didn’t charge for a disconnected hard drive, as it was usually a parent who had grounded their computer savy child from games.

  58. TSS says:

    Thank God I live near Torrance. I now know where to go.

  59. ttttubby says:

    I find it interesting that the places that correctly diagnosed the problem (compusa, local) both indicated that the IDE cable was “loose” rather than disconnected. As a self-professed geek and computer hardware reviewer (have been reviewing hardware for about 2 years on another site) I can attest to the fact that there certainly is a difference between a loose cable and a disconnected one. a disconnected cable is easy to see and troubleshoot, a “loose” cable is another matter entirely. Especially IDE cables, which can be somewhat finicky to begin with. The poor guy in that repair shop who the news investigator went all Dateline: to catch a predator on probably booted the computer up and saw that the hard drive wasn’t working. Since IDE cables don’t just come out on their own, he said it was probably the hard drive or the motherboard. All this is not to mention the fact that those computers looked like they were built about 10 years ago.

  60. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Here’s a chat between me and a Geek Squad agent:

    GS agent: This is agent ________. How may I help you?
    me: My computer keeps randomly rebooting
    me: It looks like a heat problem
    GS agent: You’ll need to bring it in to get it serviced.
    me: That’s what I was told the last 120459135891308 times it happened, and you clearly weren’t able to resolve the problem.
    GS agent: Thank you for contacting geek squad.
    (I disconnect)

    I didn’t spend 3 minutes waiting for some macro to tell me to bring my computer in to get it serviced. I clean out all the dirt stuck in the box and voila, it works. Gee, would it kill to give real advice?

  61. ShadowFalls says:

    heh this is one old video some dragged out from so long ago.

    Well, the issues with quotes, is they will not be able to quote you with out running their “diagnostics” which has its own fee. You can’t bounce from place to place getting quotes since you don’t get them to start with.

    Even though this is an old video, my comments are simply in the manner of how it was done. With outright lies and misdiagnoses, most of their companies show just how poor their service really is.