Recently, Office Depot and Support.com, agreed to pay the FTC $35 million in fines to settle charges that they lied to customers by telling them their computers had been hacked.
Office Depot agreed to pay a total of $25 million, which will be distributed to victims of the scam, who were convinced they needed to buy tech support from Office Depot after a computer scan program called PC Health Check said their computer had a virus.
Both companies, Office Depot and Support.com, configured the PC Health Check software to indicate that malware had been found on customers computers, if the customer stated their computer was running slower than usual. (Even without detecting any actual malware.)
Both companies knew this was going on since 2012, but didn’t stop the practice until 2016.
According to the FTC, “Based on the deceptive representations made by Defendants through the PC Health Check Program, consumers purchased computer diagnostic and repair services that could cost more than $300 per service.”
After the victims were told malware was found on their computer, Office Depot employees would then “repair” the computers that appeared to be hacked, claiming to find other problems that cost money to resolve.
In 2016, after a whistleblower came forward, undercover reporters asked Office Depot technicians to examine their computers for viruses. The customer service representatives claimed to find problems in machines that had never even been connected to the internet.
According to FTC Chairman Joe Simons, “Customers have a hard enough time protecting their computers from malware, viruses, and other threats, this case should send a strong message to companies that they will face stiff consequences if they use deception to trick consumers into buying costly services they may not need.”
The fact is, whether you’re hiring a computer repair technician or someone to fix your home air conditioning system, you obviously want to make sure you are hiring a trustworthy company.
With both of these types of services, it’s difficult for the average person to know whether or not the repair technician is being honest with the needed repairs.
Clearly, this is even scarier when you are dealing with a computer, tablet, or smartphone repair because these devices contain so much confidential information that you would never want to be seen by the wrong person.
Considering how we often need to hire folks for repair services, I want to share with you a few ideas to help you vet the person or company you are hiring.
Shop around and ask for referrals. This is a simple and common sense one. Anytime you are hiring a company, you should get at least three estimates to make sure you are getting realistic quotes.
Similar to hiring an employee, choosing to hire a repairman should be determined by a variety of factors, including personality, quality of work and cost. Ask them all the same set of questions and decide who you feel the most comfortable working with. Also, ask them for three referrals of past customers.
Do your own background check. Most companies will tell you that all of their employees have gone through a complete background check, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not much of a check.
What I mean is, they are doing an online background check for $5.99 that actually doesn’t do a whole lot. For this reason, I would ask the company for the name of the repair technician that will be coming to your home. Once you have the name, do a simple Google and Facebook search of this person.
In addition, if you have children you should do a sex offender search before you invite this person into your home. In 10 minutes, you will probably do a more complete check than the company did on their own employee.
Never agree to a contract. Last week, a relative of mine hired a landscaping company to do some yard work. Now, the company required that he sign a six-month contract for monthly services.
My family member told them he would not sign a contract because he would like to see the quality of their work to ensure it’s done to his expectations each month.
Frankly, if a company does the work they promised, they should have no reservations about not having you tied up in a contract. As long as they do what is expected, you should be willing to keep them on a monthly basis.
Do a court records search. No matter where you live, you can do a court records search for civil cases against the company or person you may be hiring. I recommend doing a search for the company name and owner’s name.
Most civil cases provide clear details on the case so you can get an idea of the history of the company. Of course, if a company has one case against them I wouldn’t make that a deal breaker. However, if the company has been tied up in 20 civil cases you may want to rethink hiring them.
Also, regarding Google, Yelp, or similar review sites…These reviews can provide good information but you need to take it with a grain of salt and do your own research.
Oftentimes, competitors will post negative reviews about another company just to hurt their business. Plus, if you are dealing with a company that has served thousands of customers, chances are there may be a few who aren’t pleased no matter what the company did.
Next time you hire a repairman remember these tips so you aren’t robbed of your hard-earned money.