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Analysis

Confessions of a computer repairman

Posted on 13 May 2011 at 15:23

Stewart Mitchell reveals what really happens to your PC when it's handed over to computer repair cowboys

When your PC breaks down – assuming you can’t fix it yourself – the first port of call is often a professional repairer who might just be able to rescue that vital data, restore the operating system without losing your photos, or get that graphics card working again.

Whether it’s an independent trader plucked from the Yellow Pages, or a local odd-jobber advertising on a card in the newsagents, however, it’s difficult to distinguish between the true professionals and fly-by-night rogues.

High-street companies have been widely criticised for a lack of technical knowledge that can leave customers frustrated, while a handful of private repair outfits appear to be actively ripping-off end users.

It’s important that end users choose a repairman or company carefully

“These people are in a minority, but they give the industry a bad name,” said Dan Hand, chairman of the Association of Computer Repair Business Owners (ACRBO). “Whether it’s people going through customer files, looking in their documents, or failing to actually install hardware that customers have paid for – it does go on. It’s important that end users choose a repairman or company carefully.”

According to people working within the industry, finding a repairman is a lottery, with no qualifications required to start trading and precious little comeback if things go wrong.

Even established repair shops can employ a slew of tricks to inflate their profits, and although they’re the exception rather than the rule, the tales of woe listed here will highlight the scams to watch out for.

We’re not naming and shaming rogue traders in this article, but examining the tricks of the trade and downright cons that have been revealed to us by repairmen. The stories highlight both the difficulty in finding someone trustworthy, and how hard it can be to recognise that a scam has even been committed.

All the stories mentioned here have been witnessed or participated in by repairmen talking to PC Pro, or by the professionals left to pick up the pieces when the original cowboy left a computer in a worse state than when it arrived. Some names have been changed to protect our sources.

Here today, gone tomorrow

Given that many computer repairmen advertise their services on lamppost flyers with nothing more than a mobile phone number, they can be difficult to track down if anything goes wrong. We’ve spoken to repairmen who have explained how this works in practice, and it can be a costly lesson to learn for the unsuspecting victims.

“Sure, we can fix this, but we’ll need to take it down to the workshop to fit the replacement parts or run tests,” is the basic modus operandi. “We’ll have it back to you by the weekend.”

In reality, this is code for “thanks for the computer, we’ll look forward to selling it at the car boot sale this weekend”. The repair company that explained this wheeze to us said it found out about the con when a frantic victim phoned up asking whether it had collected his computer. When the client had phoned all the repairmen in the phone book, he realised the hardware was gone for good.

“You should never use someone purely through a mobile number,” said John Finlay, who runs the computer shop Fixnsell in Blackpool. “There was a spate of it around here, with several machines picked up in a couple of weeks.”

The “beyond repair” bluff

Unscrupulous repair shops thrive on the fact that most customers have limited knowledge of what’s happening inside their computer, and that’s especially true if the machine won’t even power up.

“We had a girl come into the shop last week and she was really upset that her laptop was what one of our rivals described as a ‘write-off’,” said independent shop owner Ian Sharples.

“She’d taken it in there because there was a problem booting and it wasn’t powering up. The guy explained to her that the motherboard was knackered and it really wasn’t worth repairing.”

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User comments

Been there seen the damage and fixed it

I read through the article and can say I have come across every single incident over the years.
It is unfortunate but it kept me in work putting other people's wrong doing right. I charged just enough to cover my costs in these cases and the customers have been loyal to me since.

There is one thing missed off the list.

Supply of an operating system without COA and EULA.

I came across a Company on ebay selling new PCs with windows XP installed. The catch being no COA, installation media or any proof whatsover of it being the genuine article.

They were also making ridiculous claims for processor speeds based on for example a 2.2Ghz Quad Core processor they would put 8.8Ghz clock speed.

We got them shut down and helped the customers who came to me for assistance get the genuine article installed.

By mr_chips on 14 May 2011

Most shops are a joke.

I don't know exactly what it's like over there in the UK as I'm in the US. But I've seen similar tactics from the small computer shop in town.

Some friends of mine asked me to come over one night and look at something on their PC. They had taken it in to the shop they purchased it from because the hard drive wasn't working. They were informed the drive was completely trashed. They were also informed there was little chance they'd be able to recover the data, but would try for a small fee, non-refundable if no data was recovered. Sure enough, they didn't recover any data. They suspected something was amiss, so they demanded the old drive back and called me.

Turns out, they only partially may have gotten ripped off. The place did in fact install a drive, and the drive that was handed back was in fact theirs, but there was little wrong with it. The partition table had disappeared. 5 minutes with fdisk in Linux and everything was recovered.

By dewdude on 15 May 2011

Out for blood, and portrayed wrongly

I do not know the issues besieging the author and why he's written an article to paint the entire industry as greedy, nosy, inconsiderate bunch of hooligans. I did not read his entire bio, but I would hope that he has set foot inside a respectable IT shop in the past and worked there so that he can qualify his experience with some personal proofs. It seems as though his words are hearsay at best, presuming that the actions of one individual must be what an entire industry is doing. Reputable name is hard to build and it only takes a fraction of that time to ruin it for someone and the author certainly has done that in the course of his article.

With a background steeped in the IT industry, I can tell you that this has NOT been the experience I have found with my firm, or that of my competitors. I suppose that across the pond, there are shops out to rip people off, but without writing anything about the reputable ones, the article has classified the industry as a collection of pirates and leechers and not offered any solutions to the readers as to how to recognize the good shops, or if in fact, they exist at all.

By CanuckITguy on 15 May 2011

check a trade?

Plumbers, electricians use.

is there a section for IT repair? or a similar site?

By SimonCorlett on 15 May 2011

Buy a Mac or use Linux

Most of these problems that need to be repaired are software problems and only found in windows. Apple price gouges but their systems rarely have problems and when they do you take them to the Apple store which is a lot safer than any PC repair place.

I forced myself to learn Linux and I can say I don't have near the problems with Linux that I did with windows. With modern Linux like Ubuntu and Linux Mint it much easier now-a-days.

Home users should not use windows, there is no reason whatsoever. Games? Buy a xbox or a playstation and save the computer for video editing, e-mail, pictures, and web, all of which Apple and Linux do a lot better than windows. Windows if for work only, when you realize that you have a lot less headaches computer wise.

By Exodous on 15 May 2011

RE: Out for blood, and portrayed wrongly

"the article has classified the industry as a collection of pirates and leechers and not offered any solutions to the readers as to how to recognize the good shops, or if in fact, they exist at all."

CanuckITguy, I guess u didn't read this part: "We’re not naming and shaming rogue traders in this article, but examining the tricks of the trade and downright cons that have been revealed to us by repairmen. The stories highlight both the difficulty in finding someone trustworthy, and how hard it can be to recognise that a scam has even been committed."

If u are not one of the scammers, u shouldn't take the article personally =) u must admit there are a lot of cons going on in the industry...well, they exist whether u admit it or not =)

By nmplcpimenta on 15 May 2011

Think the article made it plain

CanuckITGuy
Think the folowing quote made it plain.

“These people are in a minority, but they give the industry a bad name,” said Dan Hand, chairman of the Association of Computer Repair Business Owners.

By bazzer on 15 May 2011

Personal experience

My experience is that repair shops usually do charge a lot, for little upgrade on the situation... since I've learned more about the IT stuff, I've been repairing my own computers. I've also been repairing others' computers, only charging for the parts needed. And even for those, I try to find the best deal.

But yes, I know there are a lot of scammers, and I find the fault to be not only theirs, but also their clients'. Knowledge is power, ignorance is a place to stick a knife in... that's today's world =)

By nmplcpimenta on 15 May 2011

Similar Experience

Having bee build PC for about 20 years, I often get asked to look at various faults.
Unfortunately I have seen the majority of what is in the article. With Windows XP it was mostly the OS installed without the COA & or backup software supplied. I refused to touch these if it required a re-install. I did tell them where they could get legal software at a good price though.
Many a night has been spent using Puppy Linux to recover data, before repairing.
Yet again I have another laptop waiting at home for me to look at, arriving in my absence.
Lucky for the owner I have a loan laptop they can use.

By roberttrebor on 15 May 2011

Fraud must be a bigger problem in the UK

Here in the states, my shop does a lot of work fixing other peoples mistakes, but that is what they are mistakes. I almost never deal with fraud performed by the small independent shops. They are all pretty much honest guys trying to earn a buck. The fraud is at the big box shops. They are not willing to pay the wages to maintain qualified technicians. And just about every repair requires the purchase of something that they just happen to have in stock, bought at bulk discount, and is usually a generation too old. But then again what did the customer think they would get for $25. We have even caught the big manufacturers such as HP physically damaging equipment so that they did not have to honor warrantees. I’d trust the small corner repair shop before the big guys any day.

Aside from that I almost never hear about these types of scams in the U.S..

However, I also think the author has a limited perspective of running a repair shop, and so do some of the contributors. A new hard drive may only cost $75. The labor to install it is insignificant but guy who installs it wants to get a paycheck at the end of the day. And if he has to do data recovery the whole process could easily push $250 or more. Now you could pay a big box shop $35 labor but the high school kid doing the work does not care about trying extra hard to recovery your kids baby photos and will get written up by his manager if he spends more the 30 minutes and does not “find another problem” that can be resolved by pushing another piece of hardware.

It may be just a cheap hard drive but the shop owner has to pay wages, insurance, mortgage, business fees and taxes. A lot of talented young techs don’t understand this because they have done the same work in their mom & dad’s basement on their free time. Once they are married; have a kid, and have a pile of equipment from 10 of their cousins’ uncle’s best friends in the basement they start to understand that their skills have value, even the remedial ones.

There is never an excuse for defrauding a client but there is nothing wrong for charging a premium price for your time even if it appears to be high to the new 17 year old kid in the repair department.

By pcguy2 on 15 May 2011

Fraud must be a bigger problem in the UK

Here in the states, my shop does a lot of work fixing other peoples mistakes, but that is what they are mistakes. I almost never deal with fraud performed by the small independent shops. They are all pretty much honest guys trying to earn a buck. The fraud is at the big box shops. They are not willing to pay the wages to maintain qualified technicians. And just about every repair requires the purchase of something that they just happen to have in stock, bought at bulk discount, and is usually a generation too old. But then again what did the customer think they would get for $25. We have even caught the big manufacturers such as HP physically damaging equipment so that they did not have to honor warrantees. I’d trust the small corner repair shop before the big guys any day.

Aside from that I almost never hear about these types of scams in the U.S..

However, I also think the author has a limited perspective of running a repair shop, and so do some of the contributors. A new hard drive may only cost $75. The labor to install it is insignificant but guy who installs it wants to get a paycheck at the end of the day. And if he has to do data recovery the whole process could easily push $250 or more. Now you could pay a big box shop $35 labor but the high school kid doing the work does not care about trying extra hard to recovery your kids baby photos and will get written up by his manager if he spends more the 30 minutes and does not “find another problem” that can be resolved by pushing another piece of hardware.

It may be just a cheap hard drive but the shop owner has to pay wages, insurance, mortgage, business fees and taxes. A lot of talented young techs don’t understand this because they have done the same work in their mom & dad’s basement on their free time. Once they are married; have a kid, and have a pile of equipment from 10 of their cousins’ uncle’s best friends in the basement they start to understand that their skills have value, even the remedial ones.

There is never an excuse for defrauding a client but there is nothing wrong for charging a premium price for your time even if it appears to be high to the new 17 year old kid in the repair department.

By pcguy2 on 15 May 2011

Praying on Consumer Fears = legitimate Article?

Despite the disclaimers the bulk of this article is plain fantasy. Enumerating worst case scenarios without actual reports or culprits is just smearing everyone in the industry.

Most companies are honest and it's just a matter of finding one you can work with over time. As a "PC Pro" you should know many customer nightmares stem from failures to communicate and failure to understand what service entails.
Explain your problem. Listen to the service offered to solve said problem. Ask questions before and immediately after service. Fear not the Healer. Fear ignorance.

By yeahright on 16 May 2011

There's quite a lot of over-sensitivity...

...in these comments; th article makes it plain that the perpetrators of these scams are in the minority, and that means they're not talking about you, m'kay? I wouldn't say I've seen ALL of these, but badly assembled machines, installations of dodgy copies of Windows, the "we'll have to wipe it" merchants, cold-call "You have a virus" scammers, and a couple of the other problems described are all things that I have observed directly or had to clean up after. The article makes a number of recommendations which are reasonable and helpful (not using someone who just has a mobile number, getting firm quotes before you start and so forth); overall I think it's fair and useful.

By nichomach0 on 16 May 2011

Too nice for my own good

I run a small repair shop and pride myself in charging the absolute minimum. The result is that I have a large number of very satisfied repeat customers who also have no hesitation in recommending me to their friends. The downside is that I'll never be rich. At least I can sleep at night, unlike some of the charletons mentioned in the article.

By AndyChips on 16 May 2011

RE: Over-Senitivity

Over-sensitivity implies insult greater than actually experienced. A sentence claiming bad service companies are a minority and then a full article of horror stories is dubious. No matter how good the advice is, the means to grab the readers attention is fear mongering.

By yeahright on 16 May 2011

No, it doesn't.

It means that greater sensitivity than might reasonably be expected. Once again, if you're not doing this stuff, it *doesn't apply to you*. If Consumer Direct hands out general guidance on avoiding dodgy plumbers and gives a list of dos and don'ts, does that imply all plumbers are dodgy? No, it doesn't; it merely acknowledges that there are a few who are and helps you avoid them. Bluntly, no reasonable person would think otherwise, and thinking otherwise does demonstrate over-sensitivity. Are there dodgy PC repair companies/traders out there? Definitely. I've seen their handiwork. Is it worth warning people about them? Definitely. Is it sensible to provide examples of the sort ogf thing to look out for? Definitely - otherwise how are people to know what to look out for? Is it responsible to preface that with a note stating that these sorts of cowboys are a minority? Definitely. By your reasoning, no consumer should be warned about any sort of scam or rogue operator on the basis that someone else's feelings might be chafed. Sorry, but that is *not* reasonable and it *is* oversensitive.

By nichomach0 on 17 May 2011

True and Fair practices

In response to an article posted in majorgeeks.com about confessions of a computer repairman, I think it's ludicrous to include a home number on a web paage or ad.
My wife, who is a global account director would have thrown me out a long time ago if she were on skype calls and the home phone kept ringing!! I have a home-based computer corp. that is nothing less than expert at everthing we do, but have in the past, posted a home number which we quickly removed because of all of the missed calls, interuptions to my wife when we were oout on a call, etc etc etc......A mobile phone is a necessity because you can respond immediately to a customer who is panicking and feels alone. I know there are unscrupulous companies out there looking to rip people off, but I have also cleaned up after those people and I charge 125/hr. The guys who charge 60/hr are usually not that good. I have been in business for over 30 years and have always treated people fairly and they are happy to pay my fee because all others before them caused more harm than good.
Use your mobile number only.....TRUST ME!!!!!!!!!

Jack Edelson, CEO
Smartbyte Systems, Inc.
36 Cerone Court
West Orange, NJ, 07052
USA

jack@getsmartbyte.com
www.getsmartbyte.com

By Smartbyte on 17 May 2011

Good lord,

is it really beyond the wit of man to use a separate business line with a remotely accessible answerphone or answering service?

By nichomach0 on 17 May 2011

William O Brien

My personal experience goes back about 4 years,I wanted to build a high spec PC for games, I had sourced most of the components online apart from the graphics card. I went into my local independent PC shop and saw a graphics card that I wanted, however it was only a box and I was informed that that particular card was out of stock and would take a week for delivery. I duly paid full price almost £400, a week went by and no card, a month and still no card. Requesting a refund drew a blank. eventually I threatened court action and still no card or refund. Please bear in mind the rest of my high spec PC is now built except for the graphics card so the only alternative was to purchase a hi spec graphics card from another source with the additional costs involved. I eventually took the shop to the small claims court (£50 costs)but even then I received no refund.Some 9 months later I was made redundant and after been unemployed for about 6 months I was entitled to get an enforcement order through legal aid which I did. I got my money a few weeks later including my initial court costs so in all it cost the shop £500. Had I not persisted I would have lost my money, and it is fair to speculate that other customers may have paid a deposit on goods but never received them and the shop would bank on the fact that people would not take them to court for small amounts. At present we have no legislation in the (UK) to tackle this form of practice and until such time as we do we shall still have unscrupulousness traders. The shop is still trading.

By William on 11 Nov 2011

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