Sting Op Of 10 Different Computer Repair Companies Finds 70% Don't Know What They're Doing

CBC Marketplace did a kickass hidden camera investigation into computer repair companies and found only 30% were able to correctly diagnose their problem.

One guy tells them they need to send their computer to a special dust-free room to retrieve the data, which would cost about $2,000. He even copies pictures from the customer’s hard drive to his computer, promising he’ll delete them later. Geek Squad makes an appearance and they don’t do a very good job either, although the Geek’s hair is admirably coiffed.

Marketplace’s advice is to search online for tech help and fix it yourself, backup your data, keep virus and spyware up to date, and if you do go with a tech repair outfit, get referrals from friends and get multiple quotes from different vendors.

And if you like their video, you should check out ours from when we actually caught a Geek Squad tech on-camera stealing porn from our computer.

Getting Gouged By Geeks [CBC Marketplace] (Thanks to The Savvy Boomer!)

Comments

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  1. homerjay says:

    WHAT

    A

    SHOCK!

  2. JayMo says:

    um.. the post beep sequence should have told anyone who cared to look it up that the ram was bad.. but why would you actually use the tools provided to diagnose an issue?

  3. Bulldog9908 says:

    I’m sure no one who regularly reads Consumerist will be surprised.

  4. 4ster says:

    I watched this with my wife, and she said to me, “I’m so glad you understand this stuff, so we don’t get ripped off.”

    Geek Squad: Helping wives of nerds appreciate them since 1994.

  5. MercuryPDX says:

    …and if you do go with a tech repair outfit, get referrals from friends and get multiple quotes from different vendors.

    Referrals… like to that guy that was supposed to be fired, but wasn’t because he got alot of referrals (Scummy move by that company IMHO)? Looks like in that instance you can refer the guy that scammed you and no one would be the wiser.

    The college techs who “broke” the machine for the sting operation looked to be the most reliable and trustworthy. Perhaps finding a college student in a similar class at your local college would be better. I’m sure they can use the textbook money.

  6. Leiterfluid says:

    @MercuryPDX: You misspelled “beer”

  7. Iron_Dragon_2.0 says:

    If it was just a defective RAM stick then wouldn’t the computer still turn on? I’ve never dealt with a defective ram stick before but shouldn’t you get some kind of on screen BIOS level error message?

    I don’t really know if I could have solved this problem though. Generally no start up at all (as described in the video) = Dead PSU, motherboard, or case power button.

    @JayMo: POST isn’t always the most obvious solution as not every computer has a speaker hooked up for it. At the very least however the fans should power up which should tell any tech the mother board is working at least on basic level.

  8. almondwine says:

    I watched the whole thing and got really pissed off about how CBC handled the issue. They should have blurred his face to keep him from being identified. Aside from the fact that they’re plainly libeling the guy (remember libel doesn’t have to be untrue – in the US anyway, I guess I don’t know Canadian libel law), the approach they used allows the company to just fire the guy and claim that they’ve taken appropriate action. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t fire the guy – as long as they can point to a specific person, then they don’t have to address the systemic problem.

    Consumerist did a much better job with the Geek Squad porn-stealing issue.

  9. Scazza says:

    Humber College? Man, Seneca ftw! But yeah, if Humber guys can fool the techs, then boy do we have major f**king problems…

  10. Extended-Warranty says:

    This article just screams “half ass” (and no not necessarily about the computer repair industry).

    First off, you cannot judge an entire industry off 10 sources. Secondly, was there any pattern of which companies were better? This article just sucks in so many ways.

    I see ALL KINDS of companies fix ALL KINDS of electronics incorrectly.

  11. JohnnyE says:

    Interesting news piece. Like most television news these days, it seemed to be about 30% accurate and 70% sensationalism (about as high a success rate as the repair people they condemned.)

    I’m curious as to what people think a computer repair house call should cost? I’ve never had a plummer over my house for the simplest of jobs for less than $100 (the amount they seemed astonished over for a house call and a half to an hour’s worth of diag work by the computer techs.)

    The college techs also weren’t entirely accurate either. Even if RAM is $65 on-line, it’s not unreasonable for a repairer to sell it, delivered and installed for $120. Likewise, if your Windows install has gone corrupt, you can’t just ‘reinstall Windows to fix it’. You’ll also have to reinstall all of your applications. What’s more, without knowing that someone intentionally sabotaged the machine, you’d be wise to extensively test the hard drive to insure that failing/marginal media didn’t cause the corruption, or that a virus/trojan didn’t compromise the system. At any rate, it’s a much better practice to back up the data, scan it for threats, reformat the drive, and perform a clean install of the OS and apps. And, yeah, that’s going to take at couple of hours at least (especially on an old, slow machine), which even at a plumber’s labor rate, will be a couple of hundred dollars.

    I wonder how often those news people do what they do for a living “at no charge”, or how often they sell their “merchandise” without marking it up for a healthy profit. (And, yeah, to you people who call up your friends or a student for “free” tech support, I hope you do what you do for a living for them for free in return.)

    That said, obviously some of those techs could diagnose their way out of a paper bag — and the guy who talked about data recovery services yet also was reading the hard drive with an IDE/USB adapter seem an outright fraud (although, since I only have TV selective editing and sensationalism, I can’t say for sure.)

  12. ExtraCelestial says:

    @Leiterfluid: ROFL!!

    my teenaged cousin is leaps and bounds above these guys. anyone else watch the upcoming stories and kind of wish they had canadian tv? it may not have been the most subjective approach but it was rather entertaining. marketplace AND degrassi? not fair

  13. Scazza says:

    Marketplace is like those US consumer-protection segments on news shows, only without the “computer geeks can install viruses that can download your porn and rape your children, for al-queda” spin that you tend to see with every US one…

  14. l0stn0tfound says:

    Well, I see both sides of this. Now, the “trained professionals” should have been able to see the problem if they looked at the ram. The only problem I see in the report is that they don’t show you what error she is having. It could be possible that the motherboard COULD be dead in that situation depending on the error. Most motherboards nowadays beep if something is wrong with the ram though on system startup. Plus, tech is like a car. Some symptoms can be the result of multiple things. But it doesn’t excuse them from not checking the RAM. The other part is, yeah they screwed up on that issue but what haven’t they screwed up on? I’m sure they help SOME people. Sorry, I just try to be objective with tech stuff but I agree they should have seen the memory issue.

  15. l0stn0tfound says:

    Ok nevermind.. After watching the video again.. WTF???? I stopped doing tech work years ago and I could still figure that out.

  16. Mr. Cynical says:

    Personally, I think computers should be machinery that requires a license to operate. Like cars.

    But hey, as long as companies keep mucking this up, at least hot girls will keep asking normal geeks for computer help. giggity.

  17. catcherintheeye says:

    As a systems administrator, I’ve found that the majority of computer repair shops are worthless, and to make ends meet will charge you up the ass once you demonstrate the smallest bit of ignorance (just like auto mechanics – I may be in charge of a corporate network, but as soon as someone tells me my car needs a new flamshooter because my johnson rod is misaligned, I take my check and make it out to cash). Do yourself a favor and find a local geek who works in computers as a real job and does side jobs for a little extra cash – odds are you’ll get better service at a lower price by a more qualified professional.

  18. ShadowFalls says:

    I find the whole new computer part of it sad. It is not like I have not suggested that in the past since some computers were pretty old and others used RDRAM (still too expensive). But every time it was in their best interest and I would assist them in finding something they wanted that I wasn’t trying to sell.

  19. ekoshyun says:

    25 bucks for ram? is it from 2001?

  20. XTC46 says:

    the RAM issue should have been a no brainier. However, all the techs making the “motherboard” diagnoses probably heard the POST beep code and thought “video” since both RAM and video give the same post error. because the desktop used integrated video, “motherboard” would have been a correct diagnoses. But they were idiots for not testing the RAM since it is a much more common problem.

    The software issue where many said “virus” is interesting. I want to know if they said “virus” because it is an easily recognizable word for the customer and didn’t want to waste time explaining what a “system file” was. Rude yes, but still possible.

    Over all I’m not surprised. I have been a tech for years and see these people ripping people off all the time. It makes good techs look bad. And that sucks.

  21. XTC46 says:

    Oh and as far as recommending a new computer. I don’t understand that logic. As far as profit margin is concerned, repairing the item is much better. Like the guy in the video said, tech money is straight to the bottom line. The tech is already paid so any thing he does is profit. The average desktop only has about 9-12% margin. so unless they buy a high end computer, that tech visit is better for the bottom line. The only way the store is better off with the customer buy a new computer is if the customer also picks up their warranty (counted as about 65% margin although in reality is about 90%) and a few accessories…so the salesmen better be good.

  22. SwatLax says:

    Feel a little bad for the founder of Nerds on Site having to find out about that schlub while on camera. CBC is willing to play hardball.

  23. arachnophilia says:

    @Iron_Dragon_2.0: the sort of message that hardward issue causes were probably interpretted by the crappy techs as “won’t turn on.” i know people who see a DOS prompt and don’t think of the computer as “On.”

    and some systems simply make a beep when there’s a faulty ram chip.

  24. ogremustcrush says:

    Wow, I can’t believe that they had issues diagnosing the memory. Even if the machine didn’t give beep codes, the RAM is the first thing to suspect. I guess if they didn’t have a good replacement stick to test with they could assume its the motherboard, but thats just irresponsible. I did see some fault in the customer saying it suddenly stopped working though. Memory is almost always bad from the first time put in the machine, and if not it would cause unbearable crashes long before the system stopped POSTing. The system file issue was a bit more vauge. There is a decent chance that there could have been a piece of software on the machine that could trigger a false positive for a trojan horse with the av software they were using. However, any experienced tech would know what a trojan horse can accomplish, and hopefully recognize that whatever was listed wasn’t anything particularly malicious, or even real. The proposed solution of simply reinstalling windows is not the perferred option. Unless the customer needs the machine quickly and doesn’t care about data loss or having to reinstall apps, its better to attempt to repair any malfunction in the OS. I would consider an os reinstall a last possibility. If they would have listed the system file deleted, I could give a possible solution to fix it, but chances are it could be very easily fixed without even resorting to advanced techinques.

  25. ogremustcrush says:

    Oh, heh, I worked for the Geek Squad for a bit. That video listed some of the reasons I no longer work there. When you feel crappy about being the best tech (read- most or only competent one), you know that something is wrong.

  26. faust1200 says:

    @SwatLax: I felt a little bad for him too except for the fact he said he was going to fire the guy and didn’t. So I guess if the head of the company (or whatever he was) is a liar you can’t expect much else from the subordinates.

  27. Hambriq says:

    Ugh. I hate Dateline style exposes like this. Pharmacies got hit with a slew of these a couple months back, and it’s a pain in the ass. These things are specially designed to produce results, and make their targets look like bad guys. You think that there isn’t some degree of calculation that goes into producing these stings? They’re not going to waste all that money setting up a sting operation just to show the public that, “Hey guys, guess what! Your techs are doing a great job!”

    No, they want results. They want the tech guys to take the fall so that they can get better ratings. If you think about it for half a second, you’ll realize how much the odds are stacked against these guys. When a computer messes up, there are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong. And one presenting symptom could easily be indicative of a larger, more troubling problem. Even if you did somehow immediately identify the RAM as the problem, a prudent tech would ask themselves “Why would this RAM just randomly blow itself out?”

    Would you be satisfied with your doctor if you came in with a bizarre numb feeling in the left side of your body and he gave you a couple of Advil and sent you on your way? Imagine if a third-rate news program sent in an “expose” task force of people complaining of fake numbness in their arms. Would you have the same aghast reaction when the doctors are accused gouging their patients because they run a expensive tests for heart problems?

    That’s not price gouging. That’s being prudent.

  28. Hambriq says:

    Correction: In the third paragraph, I meant to say “because they run a series of expensive tests for heart problems?”

  29. weave says:

    @JohnnyE: All good points. I was about to write out almost all of that, thanks for saving me the time!

    That red-shirt rent-a-nerd *was* a mess though. The clean room thing can be legit in cases of a really bad crashed hard drive for data retrieval — if that was the real problem with the computer. However, he then copied data from this alleged bad hard drive? Amazing.

  30. Eilonwynn says:

    For the unaware / uninitiated – Marketplace *only* does this kind of thing. It’s ONLY consumer type information – rebates, recalls, consumer issues with the government, etc, and the show’s been on the air for a long, long time – they did one with mike holmes, for example, on shoddy renovation jobs, and there have been a couple of spinoff type specials or shows, people fighting major companies over consumer issues (the name escapes me just at the moment)

    Re: getting canadian tv? – a TON of canadian networks are putting episodes on tv – in this case, you can find whole episodes of marketplace at [www.cbc.ca]

  31. Starfury says:

    I do helpdesk for a large law firm and also do some PC repair work on the side. I’ve charged as little as $10 for a quick fix; more if the job takes longer. For parts I charge my cost plus 10% if I have to go pick them up. Some jobs take hours to complete; I charge a flat rate for those.

    I’ve found that most people don’t want to pay the “local computer geek” for repairs, they figure that I’ll work for free since I do computer stuff for a living. My free time is important and that’s why I charge for my time when fixing YOUR computer problem.

    Overall the techs on the tape were total incompetents and the one red shirt guy should have been fired.

    Or used as a security guy from Star Trek…

  32. remusrm says:

    Ha Ha. I had clients telling me that they need to get a second opinion, and then get shafter while me telling them that will only cost 50-100 bucks to fix. They go to best buy and get ripped off… funny thing after they get ripped off they come back, sometimes with the computer not even being fixed…

  33. cosby says:

    I only watched about half of the video before I turned it off. It was pretty clear that the news team had no clue what they were talking about. I took issue with the quoted memory prices as they were listing what they could be found online for. They should be quoting retail prices. IE best buy charges 80 bucks for a stick of memory they charge 60 for in store.

    Also thetest issue with the OS is a joke. The “expert” says that they should not be recomending a backup and format/restore. They say you should run a repair install to fix the issue. This is a joke. Yes a repair install can work but with most consumer systems I’ve seen it is not worth the hassell. It is better to format and restore the system. That way you know it is fixed.

    These people just piss me off. They are scaming people just as much as the bad techs they called.

  34. bbbici says:

    The most annoying thing is that computers are so poorly designed that they crash and develop mysterious problems unsolvable by experts.

  35. weave says:

    Last Winter my heater gave out. The tech came out and said it was the curcuit board. A real simple board too. He said the board cost $650 plus labor to install it of around $200. He recommended I buy a new heater for around $4,000 instead.

    [www.horizonservicesinc.com]

    I paid the “dispatch” fee of $89 and threw him out of the house. Found the board on the internet for $65 from a supply shop. Installed it in about 5 minutes (two screws and two edge connectors plus stripping one wire).

    My wife’s car clutch failed three years ago. Cost $800 to fix. She drove out to Montana from Delaware two weeks after that. It failed while there. They charged $600 to fix it there and warned that it was leaking fluids and would continue to because they didn’t have the part and to keep an eye on it on the way back else it’d fail again. She did, got back, didn’t leak fluid but two months later failed again anyway. Took it to yet another shop and they found something else was causing the failure. Fixed the cluth and that. Another $700 but this time it’s been OK for past 30,000 miles.

    Every industry has shysters — and I think most of them are that. If you don’t know what’s wrong or understand the tech, you’re going to get taken. It’s pretty simple, fairly common, and it sucks.

  36. Cowboys_fan says:

    Of course it kicks ass, its the CBC. In Canada, journalists actually work for a living, and waste little time on promoting government agendas and Briteny Spears.

  37. upokyin says:

    This was an interesting investigation but I have to agree with those commenters who say it was not totally on the level. When they show that red shirted guy before he’s even opened the computer case, he kind of throws out a guess that the hard drive may have failed. They then ask him, “so the hard drive is bad?” In his reply he is clearly explaining that the hard drive is a bad thing to have fail, not claiming it was definitely the cause of their problem. But the show presents that exchange as evidence for misdiagnosis. Now the guy did seem incompetent, but little details like this make me lose some faith in the integrity of the journalism.

  38. Indecision says:

    @ogremustcrush: “Memory is almost always bad from the first time put in the machine, and if not it would cause unbearable crashes long before the system stopped POSTing.”

    I have to disagree. I’ve seen lots of RAM go bad slowly and quietly, usually in machines 5+ years old. They start getting “quirky” one day – they boot up normally and are mostly fine, but start crashing or having odd problems. Sometimes, one sweep of a RAM test doesn’t even reveal anything. I’ve had a couple where I had to let memtest run for an hour or more before it found a fault.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Ok so while I am a common reader of the consumerist, I am signing up for the first time just to call b/s on some of the stuff in the video.

    While a lot of it is true, they pushed this a little too far. First, their prices that they were saying to fix the different problems were far too low. $25 to fix a bad stick of ram? Yea maybe you can find some cheap ram on newegg or something like that but if you are dealing with a retailer (like best buy) then you are going to pay retail prices! Not to mention they don’t factor in the cost of paying for the actual memory install.

    Secondly, the guy says that it’s unheard of for a personal computer to be sent to a clean room. Again, completely false. Ok granted the repair man was dead wrong in saying the harddrive was bad, but if it WAS, then a data recovery could be required, and would have to be done in a clean room. So why would it be unheard of?

    Well anyways, that’s my two cents. But with all that said, yes. Most of these techs are complete idiots.

  40. compuwarescc says:

    I’m a local independent computer tech in the Rhode Island area, and I’m not very impressed with the methods used in this report.

    In this case the memory had resistors removed from it… THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN NORMALLY!!! If the motherboard identified the stick as good but failed to POST (i.e. did not give a beep error code for memory fault (Beeeeeeep, Beep Beep) and also did not display anything) it would be easy to misdiagnose it as the motherboard or video card on the spot. Once the techs brought it to their shop sand had time and parts for more accurate testing it could be found that the module was tampered with.

    The hard drive replacement guy should be shot.

    I have more people complain to me about techs or company’s that replaced their hard drive for no reason…

    The local college computer store replaces hard drives when there is a software problem because it’s faster… never mind all that data on it… you weren’t using it anyway.

  41. SirCrumpet says:

    In regards to the virus thing, I think it is a fair assumption that the computer could have had a virus (or more likely spyware/malware) that they didn’t pick up on in the first place. No solution is perfect, and I dont think i’ve ever seen a windows PC that doesnt have some sort of nasty on it, even if it is just a tracking cookie (that a technition may describe as a virus/spyware – its certainly not correct, but if they are performing a windows install/recovery on the drive anyway, its unlikely they’ll charge you much extra for the removal, so it doesnt quite matter in the long run, and describing cookies/spyware/malware to some users is just frustrating to no end).

  42. ceredon says:

    I watched this episode. It started off pretty good, but CBC did a really good job of making up issues when there were no issues. For instance, they kept going on about how the techs were over changing for RAM. To prove this, they did a price comparison at one of the cheapest retailers in Canada (CanadaComputers-they are great). In some cases the difference was only $15-$25. What did they expect, that these techs were charity workers that would make house calls and not have any mark up on materials? Of course if they provide the materials, come to your house and install it, they are going to freaking make some profit on it…

    Another point they kept going on about was the cost of the examinations. Again, these techs have come out your house. You, as a consumer, do have some responsibility to comparison shop. Some of the tech prices were outrageous, but the customer does have a choice.

    Then they make a big deal that the test with the missing or corrupt system files should have been an easy fix. Unless you assume the user was manually deleting System files, then a supposition that it might have been caused by a virus is not unusual. The computers at Humber must have a lot virii and trojans if they don’t pre-emptively consider virus to be a possible cause of missing system files.

    In all, the episode was interesting, but CBC got way to excited over issues that were in now way issues. I was surprised they also didn’t make a fuss about the techs that had red shirts…I mean shit, they were wearing red shirts. CBC usually does good consumer reports, but tis time they took the low road and got all about trying to sensationalize non-issues.

  43. ceredon says:

    @faust1200:
    I went to UW with Dave, the founder of Nerd. Really, the nicest of guys and very ethical. It was shit of CBC to dump on him for the actions of an employee of one of his franchisees.

  44. othium says:

    I am sure glad I know how to fix all but the most difficult of my computer problems myself, and for those I have a downstairs neighbor (Who I share a cable connection) that can handle anything else. Not so many people are this fortunate and have to depend on “experts” to do it for them.

    It’s kind of a hassle to have it be known that you “know a few things about computers” at my workplace as I am asked to fix printer connections, and other little glitches all the time – in addition to my regular tasks. Sometimes I wish I could just say that I didn’t know how to do it so I wouldn’t be bothered. I even have some co-workers asking me if they can bring in their home computers for me to fix for free. Not a nice situation when I decline..

    If the repair industry keep going the way it is, I can see the reputation being lumped in to that of “Car salesmen” like the story mentions.

  45. Anonymous says:

    This video is a little misleading. I own a computer service company. For example, a stick of RAM will not just cost ‘$25.00′ and a reinstall will NOT cost ‘$60.00′. If we charged that, no money would be made in this business. If people want their computer fixed correctly and quickly, they will have to be charged a decent price (but, for that price, they should be diagnosed correctly).

    The cost also depends on region in the country. I am part of a national franchise company with over 700 locations in 60 countries. I worked in Minneapolis and in Chicago. Prices are about 150-175% in Chicago.

    To conclude: Onsite diagnosis is sometimes a bit harder than testing on the bench, as we typically do. The problems are that customers are sometimes in a hurry, they like to watch and look over your shoulder, and they also sometimes ask a lot of questions (all of these are acceptable, however, they do cause some problems when onsite).

  46. WraithSama says:

    @JohnnyE:

    You don’t have to reinstall all your apps etc. if you need to reinstall Windows. Simply install your OS on its own partition. If Windows needs to be reinstalled for some reason, only the OS partition will be reformatted and the rest of your data (on seperate partitions) will be unharmed.

  47. Farfy says:

    Ok first things first. I work at Geek Squad, I also did in home service for another company for 3 years. If I respond to a housecall and the motherboard gives a beep code, im going to assume that the computer has never been opened/moved since opening it voids the warranty and most people dont move their computers around, so why would the ram become unseated. unless someone intentionally tampered with the machine, its not possible. why would a tech respond to a call assuming someone tampered with the computer. if the want to test the industry then they should have a real problem and check the quality/thoroughness of the repair, not tamper with something like the ram.

  48. COVERFIRE says:

    @WRAITHSAMA: Not if you want the applications to work… If you do a clean install of Windows, even on it’s own partition you are going to loose the registry.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Prices are ALWAYS higher from a retail store vs. an online store. This is no secret. Real stores have far more employees, and a lot more space to pay rent on then online stores. It’s not GeekSquad’s responsibility to make sure you know all the different purchasing options.

    Diagnosing a computer is kinda of tough and requires experimentation. I’ve seen a bad mouse cause Windows to blue screen but only when using the middle mouse button. Any problem can cause such a vast array of symptoms it’s virtually impossible to diagnose a computer hardware problem without swapping out hardware.

    For someone to copy your data without permission is inexcusable.

    If you don’t agree with the pricing, DON’T ASK FOR HELP from that company.

    This story trash. It makes all computer tech look like fools. Besides do you think a real computer tech with real experience is going to be working for Geek Squad for $11/hr? If you want real service from a real tech get ready to shell out the $100/hr cause thats what the big boys charge. Good luck trying to get them help you though. They are usually busy contracting to companies.

    Finally, is this brilliant journalist saying that you’re better off not getting your computer fixed?

  50. hn333 says:

    @ogremustcrush: When they talked about reinstalling the OS I thought they meant doing a repair install but dumbed it down for tv by saying “reinstalling the OS”. A repair install is quick way to fix corrupted systems files and no data gets lost.

    But I would have also checked the hard drive, corrupt files are one of the first signs of a failing hard drive.

  51. trunk666 says:

    fuckin BUSTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  52. Craysh says:

    Wow, this was kind of an annoying show.
    They listed arbitrary prices for what a fix “should” cost, even though some of them were barely more than the basic “bring the computer in” fee at some places.
    Next, they did something else to the in home computer than simply the bad RAM. If a computer doesn’t turn on, it’s not because of the RAM.
    Finally, they totally glossed over the one company that they brought in the computer too and didn’t even charge them for it, even after telling them how to fix it.

  53. jmschn says:

    weak clip…obviously biased and if you think people don’t price gouge, then you might as well pull your head out of your butt..if you look at it, this clip pokes fun of the idiocy of the general public, not just the inept abilities of the technician

  54. kabes says:

    It’s not unreasonable to charge $120 for 1GB of ram that is delivered and installed on site. There’s administrative costs, travelling costs (gas, etc.), plus of course the cost of the part itself. it may be twice as much if you bought it online….but you’d also have to pay shipping, wait for it to be delivered, and then install it yourself. If you want those benefits then you better learn about computers, or else you gotta pay.

    I’m not denying that many companies rip you off but I think it’s a shame they exploited that one guy who correctly diagnosed the issue and offered to upgrade the RAM for a reasonable cost considering the house call. It’s understandable he didn’t have any 256 chips on him….those are obsolete.

  55. Trumps says:

    This was a very bad news expose. ~25 for a 256MB stick of RAM? Sheesh thats cheap considering s/h. $60 for windows reinstall or repair? Its a sensationalist piece, not a journalistic piece. It could have been done so much better.

  56. TKWarrior says:

    You mean those guys at Geek Squad aren’t computer experts!?!?!

    In related news, the sky – what color is it? We’ll tell you tonight at 11.

  57. ChaosMotor says:

    I worked in on-call repair for a very short period of time, and the guy who ran the place /barely/ know what he was doing, even though he charged $90/hr for his ‘services’. I had to charge the same rate – three times what I charged as an independent – even though I only got $30/hr from it, and could finish the jobs in less than half the time he did. He also pushed shit subscription software that did nothing for the consumer but cost.

    That job ended after I was asked to install Vista onto a small home business network, which took foooooreeeeveeeer, which was of course blamed on me, and once I was finished, half their software didn’t work and they wanted to go back to XP. Yes, of course all these problems were my fault, even though I told them from the start it was all a bad idea.

    The best way to get this done is to have a friend who’s knowledgeable do it, and PAY THEM FAIRLY so they are willing to keep providing good service.

    Tip for the public: $30/hr is a fair price. If it takes more than 2-3 hours to fix, it’s cheaper to just replace the HD and copy over your data to the new one.

    Tip for repairers: It’s not fair to charge them unless you actually fix their problem. It’s not fair to take more than a few hours to fix their problem. Don’t fight the hardware, equipment is cheaper than labor!

  58. Anonymous says:

    I feel a need to make several points.

    1) The memory issue should have been diagnosed by a decent tech within minutes by running Memtest 86+ off of a UBCD, or in a memory tester. I don’t care if you’re on a house call, you bring equipment needed to get the job done right. Pulling the stick of RAM would have told you quite a bit, as most boards will post w/out any, If they have dedicated video and can’t bring along a spare pci vga card. They’re cheap and should be part of any repair kit.

    2) Prices are what they are, people have said it already but when I worked for a repair shop, min charge was 30, parts were our cost +25%, and labor went at 60/hr in house, 75/hr on site. You knew upfront, and that was that.

    3) I find no fault with the gentleman who tried to upsell a 1gb RAM module that he DID have on hand. It’s a quick, effective fix, and was reasonably priced for the market he is in. If you can buy your RAM online and know how to install it safely, then chances are you can diagnose it being bad on your own.

    4) The laptop issue is quirky. Yes, a simple fix is to repair install windows. If it had been brought in to my old shop, we would have done a Hard drive diagnostic, found no bad sectors, no corruption, been willing to call it either user stupidity or the more polite “could be viral” cause, and have repair installed. I know timewise it can often be better to full install, especially if you make a point of reinstalling all the latest drivers and patching windows up to current.

    5) The biggest issue I have is none of them seemed to have a set diagnostic pattern they went through. If I went onsite, I came prepared to test – in order. 1) POWER / Connectors / No Shorts 2) Ram, because faulty RAM will give false positives elsewhere. 3) Hard Drive Diagnostic. 4) Any hardware that in particular was an issue in the service tag (IE – can’t get online, check the modem, can’t see anything on screen, check the video card) Most frequently the check for me was to use a known-working card in those slots. 5) Software related issues. these were rare at this point, and generally I would recommend to people that they allow me to backup their Documents that they want to keep and fully reinstall, If I do a repair install I’m charging you for 45 minutes of my time, whether or not it fixes your issue.

  59. t3chnomanc3r says:

    A few things:

    Virus? Dead HDD, mobo, or CPU? What are these guys smoking (it’s CA, eh?)…

    Dead HDD usually generates an error and is easily diagnosed with a USB bridge-board & a laptop which should be part of their kit among other tools. You know, to backup the data before you screw with the system and no charge for the backups other than media cost since it’s automated.

    Why are these guys onsite without a POST card? Never would have been an issue, even for a monkey, to diagnose this problem using numeric POST codes. Beeps are much more obscure but still should have be heeded & interpreted.

    Since when should a home visit be free? Why would I charge less than $50-70, even if I can’t fix it after all I drove out to your site. You want free diags, come into the store.

    Claims of virus detection should be accompanied by detailed reports of what files (and quaranteened copies them) & virus, not just human assumption that odd behaviour is a “phantom” virus. Backups done and a full format/reinstall SHOULD follow since “cleaning” is less than reliable IMHO.

    Is anyone actually surprised at the results here? I mean every A+ tech that’s worked under me has been a dolt or a genuine danger to the public. GeekSquad has even lower standard: HS diploma, no certs needed. If you work for them & competent, then you are part of the problem & wasting your time & reputation.

    Files accessed during a repair are a non-issue. If you are worried ANYONE might view your sensitive files, then employ encryption on your data as STOP for you storing of sensitive data. Sounds like at least one guy got nailed for what may or may not have been illegal pr0n because he left it in plain sight.

    Lastly, what qualifies these CBC journalists to make the crazy claims they make? I mean, great job pointing out the known fact that most repair places & techs are incompetent or crooked but second-guessing prices?

  60. Thain says:

    @Iron_Dragon_2.0: A computer with a bad stick of RAM will not necessarily show a display. Occasionally, a RAM error can cause a completely blank screen to be displayed instead of POST.

  61. parkall says:

    Does not surprise me at all. I know a few shady techs and it makes us good legitimate techs look bad and have to work harder to fix their screw ups.

  62. PhyreBlade says:

    As a PC/IT pro of 15 years, and I have to say the article wasn’t entirely fair. I will admit that procedurally, there were indeed some seriously heinous misdiagnoses made by most of those techs. And I’m sure many were motivated by company sales policy or inexperience.

    However regarding the pricing perspective, I have to disagree with the conclusions that were drawn. The fair range of prices for parts and services is much wider than the article was willing to allow. You get what you pay for. Sure you can get the cheapest parts you can find on the internet, but then how well they will work and how reliable they are is more or less a roll of the dice. I do not use dirt cheap parts precisely for that reason.

    And in-home/on-site service is generally not always as easy to perform as in-store or lab service, and also introduces much greater overhead costs. That is why it costs so much more. So, IMHO the “price gouging” label were uncalled for. Nobody tells a lawyer they are price gouging, in spite of some of the ludicrous prices some of them charge. If the lawyer is too expensive, you look for a cheaper one. If they are all expensive, there is a reason. No profession is any different.

  63. Trackback says:

    As less tech savvy folks start having computer problems, if they don’t have in-house tech support (i.e., kids living at home) they tend to call or visit one of the growing number of computer fixit services — many of which advertise the fact that they’ll come to your home and fix your computer.

  64. @WraithSama: nevermind all of those silly registry entries required for said programs to actually…i dunno…FUNCTION.

    Belittling someone only works when you actually know what you’re talking about.

  65. Anonymous says:

    I feel like this story is completely bogus. Computer repair people are paid for their knowledge, granted that a majority of the people misdiagnosed the RAM issue. However with the software bug if I am doing a computer repair where Windows will boot and have issues (missing system files etc), it seems rather standard to go ahead and run a virus scan, etc to check and see if that is a problem. Granted different virus software use different definitions, there is a chance that they repair person could find something that may have gone unnoticed by the consumers current virus protection. From a tech perspective, we have no idea what the user did, and granted most problems are caused by viruses and the users lack of taking care of the system properly. My next complaint about this piece that when you go to a specialist, you expect to pay more for parts etc. When you go to a mechanic do you not think they add additional costs onto their own? Of course they do, even though labor is their true money maker, products are another way to make a little bit more, which is expected! If you have the know how and computer knowledge, why are you taking your computer to a repair shop in the first place?? If you know that a piece of hardware may be bad, you dont take it in to a shop, you troubleshoot it yourself and order what ever parts you need online to your house and within a few days you are good to go! Hearing news like this really frustrates me when you have an “educated” individual saying products are over priced as well as service. It is only overpriced to THEM because they “know” what to do and how to fix it. The average person doesn’t know what type of RAM they have, is it DDR or DDR2, whats the clock speed? So for the average person, they should expect to pay more to have their computer fixed simply because they don’t know what needs to be done. For a computer nerd, you go to newegg.com or whatever your favorite site is and handle your business yourself.

  66. FMulder says:

    @almondwine

    “They should have blurred his face to keep him from being identified. Aside from the fact that they’re plainly libeling the guy (remember libel doesn’t have to be untrue – in the US anyway, I guess I don’t know Canadian libel law)”

    Libel doesn’t have to untrue? I am not a lawyer but from what I understood, defamation is making false statements about a person that causes that person harm, and libel is making defamatory statements in a “fixed” or printed medium (i.e. tv, newspaper, etc.).

    Hence, truth is an “absolute defense” for defamation (libel, slander). In legal terms, an absolute defense is one that, if proven true, “automatically” ends the litigation.

  67. vagrant_ed says:

    @Starfury
    I just wanted to second the idea that people are really cheap when it comes to paying their local geek.

    Although I wasn’t working in a computer-type job, my friends and family would all depend on me to fix their stuff. At first, I could care less because I was more or less curious and they didn’t expect me to fix it fully. More like a practice run.

    Now, my friends try to use me to fix their bricked computers now that they know I can fix a computer fully. My aunts and uncles have begged me to come over and show them how to use computers. It’s not too big a deal, but when you’re sitting there for the third hour in a row repeating everything you’ve said; or you’re at someone’s house for the umpteenth time after they clicked an ad they shouldn’t have and turned off the anti-virus software… it gets old.

  68. catprotector says:

    As a computer tech myself with my own company here in Phoenix I found this story to be both interesting and disturbing on both ends. The college kids that they used as experts made some mistakes in regards that RAM shouldn’t cost more than $25. If you go into a retail shop it usually costs anywhere from $45-75 depending on the store or if you shop for online. Also, when they installed a bad memory stick for this story they neglected to say how other PC’s might react. I’ve seen some where nothing really happened and others that would beep continuosly.

    Also, they didn’t say whether or not they were removing the original RAM or not. I’ve seen on a lot of computers that when that is removed and replaced with a different one then you get a beeping noise and are unable to reach Windows. Yes, the video card when taken out of the computer or if it isn’t seated properly will beep and if integrated to the board will sometimes lead to misdiagnosis but when there is a problem with it installing a new video card in the PCI slot can usually be the quick fix to that issue. Also, not seeing anything on the monitor is your first clue to a video problem.

    In regards to the Windows error, I’m surprised that the woman they used as an expert in that part of the story would suggest that by re-installing Windows and not having to back up data that everything is fine. I always recommend that my customers back up their data. Even using the repair portion to Windows is no guarantee that no data will be lost.

    The 10 techs they used in this story obviously had no clue what they were doing. The red-shirt from Nerds On Site was the worst of them all and when the President of that company said the guy was fired he should have meant it especially after saying it on camera that he would do so. To keep this bad tech employed will only serve to put more customers at risk to getting scammed. It was completely shocking that this tech was also copying the customer’s data to his laptop. Unless there is good reason to do so, you should always get the ok from the customer especially with all the identity theft happening out there.

    This was also not the first time I’ve heard about the Geek Squad doing bad work as well. I think a lot of customers never think to question their business practices or their work because Best Buy is such a known name. I often hear from people who said they overcharged for their work and the problem never got fixed.

    Another thing that was wrong with this story is that they got heavy handed in regards to having to pay a tech to come out and look at the problem. Most techs get paid for their time so that shouldn’t be a shocker. Of course some of the rates were completely outrageous. I saw one news article that said Geek Squad charges $125 an hour. I don’t know how the average customer can afford that.

    Overall, this story does show that consumers should do their research when hiring a tech to fix their computer and that they should always ask questions. Also, if you get gut feeling that a tech might be bad, listen to that inner voice and keep searching for that one tech that will suit your needs and that you get a good feeling about . Also ask family friends who they use to fix their computer. Most of my customers have come from referrals.

  69. historymakin says:

    Wow these guys got BUSTED! This is really a shock because when you hire someone for help you expect nothing but professionalism and practice that are par with their expertise. It is sad that some people tend to take advantage of people who do not have adequate knowledge to fix computers.. These people can be doctors and lawyers… Would these computer geeks be happy if they went to the doctor or the lawuer’s workplace and they decide to rip off the Geek because he knows nothing about law and medicine.. That’s not the kind of world we want to live in… These guys should be punished…
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  70. MisterWizard says:

    After watching this expose’ and reading the comments I have a couple of observations.

    First of all, unfortunately, there is no regulation of the computer repair industry and there are lot of incredibly poor techs out there who only care about how much $$ they will make – not how well their clients are treated. Expecting someone at any chain store where they are making $1.00 over minimum wage to be a great tech is unreasonable, anyway.

    Most current techs are “kids” of less than 30 years old. Everyone has to learn somewhere, but they shouldn’t be ‘learning’ at the expense of paying customers. I’m always looking for exceptional technicians and they are incredibly hard to find. Most are piss-poor diagnosticians and have no basic electronics knowledge at all – which makes a world of difference when troubleshooting hardware problems. Almost none have the extensive EE background I and a few of my associates have.

    Secondly, on the subject of bad RAM, memory is incredibly sensitive to static electricity discharges. Even a small ‘zap’ you never notice can damage the RAM over time. From weeks to months to years, memory will fail after being zapped. I’ve seen it hundreds of times in the 14 years I’ve owned and operated The Computer Wizard in Plano, TX. That’s why our shop is a full anti-static environment. I’ve seen lots of computers come in un-bootable due to an end-user installing his (almost always men) own RAM.

    A good shop will always make sure the customer’s data is protected before doing anything that will risk their important files. We routinely recover data destroyed by other sloppy shops. Reinstalling the OS is sometimes the least expensive and fastest way to get a computer turned-around but it’s a major hassle for the end user, as they have to reinstall all their apps, get their email reconfigured and make everything look and feel the way they had it before — and this is incredibly daunting to the casual user. A good shop is going to charge some serious $$ to take good care of the customer and they are entitled to do this — as they have to stay in business so they’ll be around the next time their clients need them.

    Our overhead is substantial – rent, advertising, phones, insurance, expensive diagnostic software, even more expensive forensics hardware and software, storage, etc. all cost a bundle and not expecting to pay for this is ludicrous. Any service shop that’s “cheap” won’t be around the next time you need them, as they won’t be able to afford to stay in business — or they’ll cut corners like crazy, risking your data in the process — or they simply won’t do a thorough diagnostic job and you’ll have a dead computer a few weeks or months down the road after paying to have “unrelated” repairs done.

    We all pay for bad service. Thinking the cheapest is the best is faulty logic. Basing decisions strictly on price is dangerous. Referrals are key and we receive roughly 25% of our business from referrals. A shop that consistently does a good job and looks out for their customers will be around to solve the next problem that comes up – but they won’t be the cheapest place in town…

    The Geek Squad has become notorious for bad service and bad habits. Everyone should know that by now. Smaller, independent shops will always be a better gamble than chain stores or franchises because they can’t afford to do consistently bad work – they’ll go out of business.