by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:

geek squad

Geek House Call Services: Expensive, Wrong And Could Be Stealing Your Data

from the the-used-car-salesmen-of-the-computer-world dept

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. The problem, though, is that they're pretty expensive, have little training and quite often completely screw up the diagnosis. On top of that, they may snoop around your computer or even download your hard drive. Many people probably suspected this, but when a Canadian TV station put ten such companies to the test with an easy-to-diagnose computer problem only three out of the ten accurately diagnosed the problem -- and then all three charged huge markups on the replacement part to fix it. Six out of the ten got the diagnosis completely wrong and one just gave up (but didn't charge anything either). Many suggested expensive other alternatives -- with a few suggesting that the customer just buy a new computer, even though all the computer really needed was a replacement RAM chip. Then there was the one guy who showed up late, completely misdiagnosed the problem (before he'd even opened the case), told the customer she had to send the computer to a special clean room that would cost $2,000 and then (without getting permission) downloaded the contents of her hard drive to his laptop (which he didn't delete before leaving). The broadcast also interviewed some former technicians who noted that they rarely received much in the way of training, and were often encouraged to charge as much as possible and always be selling other products. The final recommendation from the TV program? Go online, do some research and try to fix things yourself.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Drew, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:13pm

    Would you like fries with that?

    One must question the legitimacy of a "repair" service ("Geeks On Call") who are owned and run by a huge box retail company. Where is the incentive? To fix the problem? Or to make some quick sale?

    It's been my experience that the clerks SELLING the equipment barely knows how to spell PC, let alone explain anything about requirements or applications. They often can't read the answer to the question you just asked off the box faster than you can (because they are less trained or capable than McDonald's tellers with photos on the registers).

    Is this news? I suppose. Is this unexpected? I only hope that those who need this tip-off are readers of Techdirt (unlikely) so they can know they are being calculatedly ripped off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    BoydB, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:18pm


    Since I work as a Computer Fixit guy, I can't help but cringe at this report. The small shop I work for has some very talent people that know what they are doing. If I can't figure out a problem I will call someone and see what they have to offer. Bad RAM? Geez! That doesn't say much for the techs and it reflects badly on their company. Unfortunately it also reflects badly on techs like me that do know what we are doing and are proud of the service we offer and preform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Sceptical Cynic (profile), Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:18pm

    It's companies like that...

    ... that give good technicians a bad name. I have been doing Tech Support professionally for over 10 years and would not have had a single problem fixing that. The problem is that you pay for what you get. I charge $85.00 for computer support billed in 15 min increments but I am worth ever penny because it will take me 1/8 the time to fix an issue then someone from the Geek Squids. And time and time again when a customer of ours has gone to the Geek Squids they come bad and complain about how much more it costs them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Davin Peterson, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:32pm

    My local TV station did a similar story. I would hesistate to get my computer fixed by a store technican. Luckily, I am pretty computer savy, which means I can fix most parts of the computer myself, since I took a computer repair course in college where they showed us how to build a computer.

    It appears that the industry is worst that Auto Repair.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Steve, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:35pm

    Giving hard working techs a bad name

    I have to agree with you guys. I am a computer programmer by day and i fix computers on the side after i get off work. I used to work for the Geek Squad and i know that i didnt receive any training on how to fix computers. They assumed that i knew what i was doing (fortunetly i did) and gave me jobs to do. I know that there are a lot of people i worked with that had no idea.

    Anyways, to get to my point, I have been doing computer repair for 6 years now on my own and NEVER have I screwed someone over. I just cant believe that companies go out and do this kind of thing. It makes it hard for people to trust good honest techs like me and gives us a bad name... Boo to you companies i say, BOO!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:40pm

    Crooks are everywhere...

    Every repair industry has crooks in it. Auto mechanics are a traditional example of overcharging, shoddy work, and sometimes charging for work that was not requested and even on rare occasion work that was not even done. It's no surprise the numbers of pc users increasing so much that the crooks would realize that there is money to be made.

    And it's not just crooks you have to look out for. Incompetent "techs" will mess you up just as badly as a dishonest ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Angel de la Noche, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:52pm

    Another fixit guy here. I have been working for the same local computer store for nearly 15 years. Aside from the constant staying up to date with new technologies, I get additional formal training at least yearly.

    When we hire a new technician, he/she spends several months doing in-house repairs and building new systems, all under supervision. It does not matter how much previous experience or training he already has. He does not go on-site for repairs until he has demonstrated to the senior technicians that he is capable of doing good quality in a reasonable time. It is our companies reputation on the line, we will not risk that on someone who is not qualified.

    This is the difference between your local computer stores and the big box retail stores. The big stores have a high turnover rate, little or no time to properly train new employees and are driven by sales. The local computer store makes it's profit through service and the employees generally have more years experience.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 12:54pm

    The test was somewhat faulty; a bad or failing ram chip can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways and is therefore by no means a simple problem to diagnose. Failing processors, motherboards, and power supplies can all produce similar symptoms. So while as a tech I could replace a ram chip for under $100 labor & parts, determining that the problem is a ram chip in the first place could mean waiting several hours while a memtest program runs or guessing which of several components is at fault. So many home users are running a $500 Dell or Compaq. By the time you figure a couple hours of tech support at $80/hr or more (that's the low end around here) you've come very close to matching the value of the machine. In other words, "Buy a new computer" could be the correct answer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Brian, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:00pm

    Geek Squad Haters

    I can't give you a direct link because my work has all the Gawker media sites blocked, but check out the "undercover" report the Consumerist did on the Geek Squad. They (Geek Squad) seem to be pretty inept, underhanded, and untrained. I always direct my parents to find a local tech over the GS when I can't remote assist them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Benjie, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:04pm

    WTB memtest, spinrite, prime95

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Wow, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:17pm

    85$ an hour? Who would pay that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    My gosh, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:32pm

    No one mentioned, what I would have thought is a crime, the issue of the guy "stealing" the customers data when he downloaded an entire harddrive to his laptop. I understand this was "staged" but if that is proven by a consumer isnt it a crime ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Kjell Andorsen, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:44pm


    That's pretty much what I charge. It's close to half of what some of these big-box companies charge and personally I think it's a fair price to pay for a skilled professional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Mystified Mind, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:46pm


    Who would pay $85/hr? People who know what they are getting will pay $85/hr and more. Why? Just like Sceptical Cynic says - if you know what you are doing you can do it in 1/8 the time. As an EE with 40yrs+ experience in circuit design, diagnosis and repair many neighbors want to bring their TVs and computers over to get fixed. I tell them I charge $150/hr. Most go away shaking their heads. The ones who REALLY know me, bring their sets over. One had spent over $250 at a regular repair shop and still had the problem. I fixed the problem, for good, in about 45 minutes replacing a $1 part. That neighbor was delighted and gladly paid my $150/hr.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Mystified Mind, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re:

    For the math-impaired, that works out to $112.50.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Overcast, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:52pm

    It's not just them - it's in general.

    I fixed a lawyer's PC who had complained, since he had bought it three years ago that it was slow.

    He said it had been this slow since he bought it and the warranty recently ran out. The company who sold it to him, had attempted 3 warranty repairs and never got it fixed.

    I had the problem diagnosed in less than an hour.

    Run scandisk - found tons and tons of errors. A New hard drive later, it ran just fine. I think it was a bad hard disk out of the box and the company that sold it to him, didn't notice it. Nevermind there were loads of errors in the event viewer about bad blocks on the disk, lol.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    BMR777, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 1:56pm

    Clean Room

    I find it ironic and funny that the one tech told her she'd have to send her hard drive to a "clean room" at $2,000 to get the data back, and then seconds later he's pulling files off of that same drive right in front of the customer! I would hope that even the most computer illiterate person in the world would be able to figure out that this guy is full of BS.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Just another consultant, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 2:10pm


    We charge $125/hr and service mostly small-medium sized business clients. More often than not our customers RAVE about the great service and support we provide. I've lost count of how many issues I've resolved in an hour that other (both more expensive and cheaper) techs/firms had killed hours and hours trying to fix. When Im looking for a service like this (non-tech) I stopped going with the cheapest and started getting referrals from friends and sometimes online forums.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    DCurt, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Sigh...

    I too work in an IT support department. It is very hard to maintain a good re pore with our user base with all of the people out there doing a bad job. Even when you do a good job and fix the problem, nowadays people think that we are steeling all of there privet info and charge way more then we should. I know that a good tech can make this job look easy but that is some respects is just so you are not scared of your computer after we are done. Please help spread the word on the good ones and lets stop with the bad remarks on "all" of the computer techs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    chris (profile), Oct 5th, 2007 @ 2:46pm

    get someone from your IT dept. to help

    skilled techs work for corporations, not retail establishments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 2:47pm

    I work in an IT department by day, and occasionally do some freelance computer repair work on the side, like many other IT guys. I am far from what I consider "professional," but I do believe that I am capable of maintaining proper ethics. I NEVER intentionally look at anybody's personal data, especially email, unless I have their permission to do so. I do not put things on or take things off of their computer without permission.

    Then there's the price tag. I charge all of $20/hr. for my time (and maybe an extra $5-10 for gas if I have to drive a really long ways). And I do NOT charge for every last second I am on the job. If I sit there for 20 minutes or so waiting for spyware or antivirus scans to complete, and am chatting with the customer on various topics of conversation unrelated to the computer, I don't consider myself to be "working" so I do not charge for that. I keep a general running total in my head of how much actual hands-on time I have spent to come up with a fair price, and I also try to take into account the budget of the customer I am dealing with. Obviously I am not going to charge through the roof to somebody who is just trying to make ends meet and is unfortunate enough to have an old computer filled with malware. I may recommend upgrades or even a new computer or peripherals, but I will never try to forcibly sell something to somebody who doesn't want it.

    Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think that puts me in a standard that's just a bit above your typical on-call geeks. Granted, it's not my main job, and I probably couldn't make a living off that type of mentality, nor would I want to. However, I do think there is a happy medium point somewhere where the customer can be treated properly while still turning a profit. Unfortunately, the vast majority of computer repair services are not at that point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    TW Burger, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 3:02pm

    This is why I learned car repair

    The customer has to take some steps to educate themselves so not to be taken advantage of. Just as a car owner should know that the diagnosis of "The injector flanges need polishing." is complete BS a computer owner should know that a clean room is only required for forensic analysis of an open hard drive and not for any repair. I agree with the conclusion: "Go online, do some research and try to fix things yourself." There is not a single tool I use that is not available for free or at a low price to diagnose or repair anything and most are very easy to use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    John, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 3:15pm

    With all due respect to techs

    With all due respect to the techs out there, why would someone with knowledge and experience in troubleshooting PC's work at a "box store" instead of working for a corporation (and get 2 or 3 times the pay) or work at a local store (where he might get more pay, would probably serve the customer better).

    Is this the old saying of "you get what what you pay for"? The article doesn't say anything about what these people paid for their tech calls, but like some posters pointed out, would the "big box" stores really want to repair your PC? Or do they train their techs to upsell the more expensive service contracts and brand-new parts?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Zergy, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 8:01pm

    Ya, TV show good but slightly overhyped.

    While they do offer alot of valid points. That whole show was edited to make the one guy, talking about the computer room, look bad. How much of that was edited. He may have been talking about hardrives in gerneral. If your hard drive is damage beyond repair, but you need the data. They can take the cylinders out and put it in a new drive. In order to do that you need a "Clean room" free of any dust particles. Guess what, they cost money. Obviously once he did download the contents to his computer. It is obvious the clean room wasn't needed. Now we know it was just ram, and I agree he should have asked permission. But I think that show was all about striking panic into people. I think he was just giving worse case senario and the editing team decided to pick on him, cause lets face it, it does sound rediculous to people who aren't computer savvy. Anyone agree? Think about it. The Company's president that the guy worked for, said he'd be fired. Damn I'd fire him for making the whole company look bad. But he still works there, why do you think that is? I don't have much faith in news casts. they are interesting but are always designed to scare the crap out of you. 3 out of 10 very bad, and I agree that you could try to fix it yourself first. But people use there CD burner as a coffee cup holder, I can't see those people fixing it. I think the show was going way overboard (but I did like it). Best answer find someone who knows someone and get them to recomend someone. To those who are repair techs, I have never been one but help alot of my not so computer savy co-workers and know your pain. If you do you best and get wrong, it will show but you keep trying. Ive taken hours to figure out a problem. For those that take advantage, shame on you. You now have TV show making you look like the car marketing industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Trevlac, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 8:37pm

    I work for the Geek Squad and I see a lot of horror stories about my company and yet the ones that I experience in person are always caused by a client who's expectations exceed our abilities. Not our technical abilities, but what we can actually do for them. Anytime I or any of my team cause a problem we go out of our way to fix it for them or help the client.

    More often we get someone who's computer is no longer under and manufacturer's warranty (which we can do work under) but still want free service because they bought it at the retail store we reside within.

    Now, I'll definitely grant that many Geek Squad agents wrongly diagnose things (happens all the time in the IT world) because there's about 8,000,000 things that can go wrong with a computer. If they refuse to admit they were wrong and fix it, that's a different story.

    As for being expensive, all technicians on the consumer level cost about the same. Anywhere from $50-200 depending on the services. That's way undercharging, most business-level technicians will charge $300-800 for the same service. Anyone who does it for less than consumer-level is selling their skills short.

    Stealing a client's data is completely unacceptable. This is going to depend on the technician you get. If it's in-home, get a referral from a previous client of theirs, or watch them do everything. If it's at a repair shop like ours and it's a quick deal, ask to watch. If it will take a few days and you can't research the company or aren't sure, then DON'T take your chances. For instance, we recently had a few scattered cases of internal data theft. The next week every single Geek Squad computer was audited and every store had a visit from the district managers to check them out. Look for businesses that check into internal affairs rather than bury them or shy away from the issue.

    Now we've just talked about the bad of personal IT guys. Why not the good? You get someone who had mounds more knowledge than you about something and in a good majority of the time can quickly and accurately assess the problem and fix it for a price that is reasonable considering all of the work you'd have to do learning about it and fixing it yourself. Find you an honest guy who knows what he's talking about and can put things in plain English and you've got yourself pure gold. Why not pay a technician to work on your computer? You'd do the same for your car.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Clueby4, Oct 5th, 2007 @ 9:10pm

    Lack BIOS improvement

    I blame the crappy BIOS on motherboards. I mean really BIOS tech hasn't really hasn't been updated, at all. It pretty much the same tired implementation from i386 chipsets.

    The flappage about memory being hard to diag, is a direct result of the crappy bios, but it's also a cop-out. Since memory test equipment is available, so I while I have some sympathy for memory issues, if you're a professional you should have all appropriate memory testers, if not on the truck, at least carry tested spares and bring the customer's into the office to test.

    As far as harddrive copying goes, please give me a break spring for a 2nd harddrive and dump your data there, or even better by a USB HD/kit. Harddrives are dirt cheap so there's really no need to have the tech copy your harddrive. Especially since you can get a 250 gig for about the same cost as a repair call.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Clair Ching, Oct 6th, 2007 @ 3:44am

    Learning how to use computers ...

    ... is what we all need to know.

    Sure, there are times that we don't always know what to do. But we could always ask others we could trust.

    Then again, some people have the mentality that if a service is expensive, it must be good and so they resort to calling those who are said to be experts.

    Companies like that should be more responsible for the people that they hire to fix stuff. But more importantly, we should all be responsible enough as computer owners. That's why we still have to be the ones to do our maintenance work or oversee it when someone does come to fix it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Trevlac, Oct 6th, 2007 @ 7:08am

    Memory can be very difficult to test because bad RAM can pass all sorts of diagnostics. The only last ditch effort to find bad RAM is diagnose everything else and then theorize that the RAM is bad and test the computer with good memory to make sure. It's even hairier with bad memory that has intermittent problems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    es, Oct 6th, 2007 @ 6:02pm


    A smart person who would hire a pro,who in turn would fix a computer in one hour, therefore completing the job for a total of $85,that's who.
    On the other hand, you can hire an out-of-garage guy at $25/hr, f**k around for 2 days, and $300 later will leave your PC all screwed up,making you wish you just paid the pro.
    See it all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. Geek House Call Services: Expensive, Wrong

    I can relate to this article.

    Some years ago, I was using Windows 98 and started having problems, so I went to a nearby computer repair shop.

    They advised me that If I upgrade to Windows XP, all my computer problems would disappear.

    So, I did.

    But it did not take long for new problems to crop up with Explorer.

    Suddenly, I could not use Explorer anymore.

    So, out of frustration, I called Microsoft.

    After the usual, If you want dept A, press 1, dept B, press 2, Dept C, press 3 rigmarole, I reached a nasty sounding staff.

    I narrated my problems to him. His response shocked me.

    He said that since I did not buy my Windows XP from a store and my computer repair shop installed it for me that Microsoft would have to charge me in order to give me any help to figure out what is the problem.

    The reason he gave for this is that their warranty don't cover the installation by the repair store!

    I was mad and since there was nothing I could do, I hang up.

    Then I decided to re-install Explorer, but I could not.

    It said that I must buy another copy of XP to be able to re-install Explorer.

    That was when I decided it was time to give up on this bumbling, aging and wacky 500Ib gorilla.

    I installed Forexfox and since then, I have had a very pleasurable surfing experience and peace of mind.

    I felt tempted to take legal action against this gorilla for all the hassles its inferior softwares have caused me for 7 yrs, but decided against it because I knew that only a worldwide class action lawsuit can wake up this sleeping gorilla.

    And some day, there would be a class action lawsuit to compensate billions of people who have suffered for 30 yrs in the hands of this goofy gorilla.

    How do you have the balls to create inferior softwares and when a client goes to repair it in a repair store, you use that against him and also try to charge him before you can help him fix the problem you created in the first place due to your incompetence? What a nerve.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2007 @ 7:20pm

    Re: Re: Sigh...

    OMG I couldn't help the mental image of a steel privet. ROFL

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Chris, Oct 9th, 2007 @ 8:17am

    Re: Clean Room

    "I find it ironic and funny that the one tech told her she'd have to send her hard drive to a "clean room""
    And I am sure that her questions couldn't of led to him saying that. He guessed the hd was dead, said the data might be lossed. She asks if there is anyways to recover it, he says it get expensive, she asks how expensive could it get, he says we might have to send it to "the room". He hooked the hd outside the laptop saw he could get the data off avoiding the room, since she was so concerned with the data. She in turn tries to get him fired.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Dwight, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 3:24pm

    Help Please!!!!

    Everyone has computer problems, most are self inflicted, generally the tools to fix them are available on the internet for free, the knowledge to diagnose is pretty much there using Google. Mechanically pcs are pretty simple too, again the knowledge to diagnose and repair are there for the searching. Please help to dispel the idea that it's voodoo or something. My free time is plagued by "friends" and co-workers who's pcs need defragging, who's antivirus expired 2 years ago or who bought a machine with XP and 128 megs of ram and now it won't run. I charge but I'm no expert, I'm slow, if I charged for my time they'd get mad.
    I guess I'm just venting but how do I stop this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. identicon
    Happy Customer who can "READ", Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:29pm

    Re: Would you like fries with that?

    Can you READ? "Geek Squad" is owned and run by a huge retail store. "Geeks On Call" is not owned by any retail store. Get your facts right before posting and misleading readers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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