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I have been seeing A LOT of people lately who have been caught in today’s most common computer scams.

I want to review them briefly and help you avoid making a mistake and giving control of your computer or bank account to a scammer. All of them are modern takes on the “snake oil” smoke-and-mirrors show from history designed to separate you from your money.

There are three ways that the latest wave of tech scams work:

  1. You get a random call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft or another large computer company, sometimes on all of your cell and home phones in a short time frame. They’re always sporting a fairly heavy foreign accent and phrase things strangely. They’ll tell you all kinds of stories about how terrible your computer is or how many viruses you’re leaking on the Internet. It’ll sound REALLY BAD. They’ll offer to help you fix it…for a price of course.
  2. The pop-up scary talking warning! Your browser loads an infected website or a malicious ad and gets kicked over to a HUGE SCARY WARNING that says your computer is infected and you need to call the number on the screen. If your speakers aren’t muted, it’ll also talk to you in a synthesized voice. If you call, you’ll get the same people as in (1) but this time they didn’t have to luck up and cold-call you, plus you’ll already be terrified so they can trick you into doing what they want.
  3. You call “tech support” for a large company like HP or Dell. You’re not really talking to an HP or Dell employee; you’re talking to an iYogi employee in India whose job is to sell you a support contract. I’m not sure if they’re the same people doing the other two, but it’s the same song and dance as the other two: you’ll get a nice show hyping up how horrible of a situation your computer is in and a hard sell on buying support from them.

In all of these situations, the person on the phone will want to use remote support tools such as TeamViewer or Citrix GoToAssist to get remote control of your computer. Once they have remote control, they are capable of doing ANYTHING THEY WANT to your computer, though they don’t usually seem to infect machines; it’s mainly a high-pressure sales pitch for $300 of computer snake oil.

CUT SCAMS OFF BEFORE THEY CAN AFFECT YOU.

For cold-call scammers in (1), hang up quickly. If they call again later, keep hanging up. The more they talk, the more likely it is that they’ll convince you to remote them in and pay up.

For the huge scary pop-up in (2), open Task Manager and kill your browser from there. If that’s not working out, just hold the power button on the computer for five seconds and it’ll shut off. Your computer IS NOT INFECTED. If it happens again after rebooting, try power-cycling your modem and router; these can get temporarily “infected” in a way that causes the computer to land on these scary sites quickly, but this “infection” doesn’t survive the power to the box being unplugged.

For the big corporate tech support calls in (3), it’s a bit more difficult because sometimes you’ll be talking to a legitimate support agent that isn’t going to try to scam you. The key things that tell you it’s going to be a scam are that they (A) want to get remote access to your computer without spending a lot of time trying to talk you through it first, (B) they tell you that your computer has serious problems and want to help you fix them, or (C) they mention money at any point in the process. IF ANY OF THESE THREE THINGS HAPPENS, try calling back or seek help from someone else that you trust. Make sure you’re calling the support phone number on the manufacturer’s official website as well!

Almost all of the computers I’ve checked in the past month that were targeted by these scams didn’t have any serious problems before or after the scammer got on, but many of my customers had to initiate chargebacks on their cards or change their bank accounts or get their cards exchanged which is frustrating and annoying.

If you’re in or near the Chatham County, Randolph County, Orange County, or Wake County areas of North Carolina and you’re concerned that your computer has been messed up by a scammer, you can get support from me at Tritech Computer Solutions in Siler City, including 100% free in-store diagnostics and repair quotes.

I’ve been sitting in front of a computer almost every day of my life since I was three years old, so I eventually got around to thinking, “why not use all the experience I’ve accumulated to create a team of amazingly skilled computer aficionados?”  Since I set out to do just that and opened up shop, we’ve been in Siler City for around half a year now, starting with just myself and one other technician.  Since then, we have clearly provided a sorely needed service in Chatham County, because I now have four in-shop and at least two regional on-site computer techs doing work for me.  You see, we have some “crazy” ideas about doing business, such as **putting customers first** instead of our own wallets, and we’re willing to tell you exactly what’s going on without holding back information or making pie-in-the-sky promises.  Here, it’s not about the bottom line, it’s about YOU.

If you’re looking for anything computer related for your home or business, we can help you.  We’re aiming to be a one-stop computer shop, and we do pretty much everything you can imagine.  Since our opening, we’ve already set up or done major overhauls on a few local business technology infrastructures, and almost every single day, customers are waiting outside of our front door for us to open up because we’re that good at what we do.

Because we’re also the only shop I know of that is a convenient drive for Chatham County residents that deals with Macs and Linux, we’ve also helped local people who previously had no local support whatsoever for those computing platforms.  We also perform some repairs that most other shops don’t usually offer, such as replacing bad capacitors on motherboards, which has saved tons of our customers from buying expensive new computers with a simple $80 procedure.  We offer the best price you’ll find anywhere on laptop hardware and power jack repairs, typically half the cost of most competitors and totaling at least $19 less than the cheapest national laptop jack specialists as well.

I think that what ultimately makes us different is the fact that we care.  We care about you and your computer, and we care about your specific needs.  We want you to be happy.  You’re not just a number or a source of income.  You’re a prized and valued customer the second you walk in the door.  That’s all there is to it.  It might not be the way other people do business, but by gosh, it’s OUR way, and it’s going to STAY that way.

Areas we provide services in include Siler City, Pittsboro, Goldston, Fearrington, Bonlee, Bennett, Silk Hope, Ramseur, Asheboro, Liberty, and even in more distant places such as Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Apex, Cary, Raleigh, and Garner.  On-site or in-shop; it’s all up to you!  Call us and tell us how we can help you out.

As for the obligatory details, we’re at 1416 East 11th Street, Siler City, NC  27344.  Our hours are 10-7 M-F, 12-4 Saturday, closed Sunday.  You can reach us by phone at (919) 200-6003 (which automatically kicks over to a second line if the first one is busy) and on the Web at nctritech.com you can read much more about us and what we do.  Thanks again to all of our customers who’ve helped us to be such a huge success!  We love all of you!

(It occurred to me that I haven’t made a single post actually plugging my business for the local areas it covers; that’s why I wrote this.)

UPDATE BELOW.

You might be wondering where all my “Angie’s List Sucks” commentary has gone.  Here’s the explanation that I emailed to a reader, which turned out to also be a perfect blog post waiting to happen:

I talked to the COO (Chief Operations Officer, the manager of all other lower managers) of Angie’s List and everything has been resolved to my satisfaction.  Apparently the review also had zero effect on how Angie’s List rates my company because the person indicated no work was ever performed, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as I may have made it out to be.  In life one must pick their battles; I got to the top of Angie’s List, said my piece, and while we obviously don’t agree on everything, I accomplished enough to satisfy me.  The problem wasn’t the review so much as the fact that after the review was “reconfirmed” Angie’s List’s employees essentially ignored me thereafter.  Had someone simply explained to me that the review doesn’t even count and that I am the only computer company in my geographical area of the list in the first place, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so royally pissed off about it, but when I perceive that someone is ignoring me entirely, it only serves to inflame my annoyance to higher and higher levels.

The problem is a customer service problem.  He said that he’s re-examining how the staff at the company handle things because of this problem.  I still believe that Angie’s List’s business model is flawed and possesses conflicts of interest, but at the same time I realize that Angie’s List is likely incapable of changing their business model at this point due to massive venture capital infusions and the resultant control imposed by the interests of the VC firm(s) involved.

Angie’s List is not my business, and I have raised some issues at Angie’s List that may help them to fix some of the problems in how their staff members handle customers.  My opinion of their business model has not changed, but now that I have issued my input directly to the top operations officer at the corporation, they could change in the future and at least become a more customer-conscientious operation.

I removed all of the previous “Angie’s List Sucks” content from this blog as a show of good faith, and because my problems have been addressed adequately.  I regret that I had to be such a jerk to them and force an escalation to the top officers, but sometimes a consumer advocate such as myself has to be willing to do such things in order to exact necessary change.  When a business grows, there is an increasing disconnect between the lowest level staff and the highest officials.  I have seen previews of this disconnect in my own business; this is also the reason that huge companies such as Verizon often don’t seem to have higher-ups who care about the individual.  It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that the digestion (and suppression) of information between layers of management means information is lost on the way up the totem pole.

I have other battles to contend with in life that are far more problematic for my business, and Angie’s List has become insignificant in its effect on my business.  Because of this fact, I’m not going to bother with any further chatter on Angie’s List without additional provocation.  I will, however, caution anyone that deals with any business on issues such as trademark and copyright infringement (which Angie’s List falsely claimed I was engaging in) to take the time to understand the truth about “fair use” doctrines in said laws.  Even if Angie’s List sued me for copyright infringement over posting a brief 3-4 line review about my business on a personal blog, they would never have stood a fat chance in hell of winning such a case because of the four tests that determine if a use of copyrighted material falls under the fair use exemption.  The noncommercial nature of my blog, the lack of any kind of profit from my personal blog, the lack of originality of the work in question (a mere collection or summarization of facts is not copyrightable in general), and the purpose (criticism of said material) of my use all play a part in reinforcing exemption under fair use.  As for trademark infringement, that can only happen if I use someone’s trademark in a way that confuses consumers about my affiliation with that business, and if anyone read my blog and thought I was somehow commercially affiliated with Angie’s List, they probably need to go back to elementary school and learn to read better.

Indeed, Angie’s List still wants me to sign off on that form that admits a violation of their copyrights, and Angie’s List will never receive any such paperwork, particularly since my business did not post the information in question and they sent the notice directly to me at my business, as the business owner.  They misinterpreted the nature of my blog and asserted rights which my posts did not violate, so why on earth would I ever sign and return a form admitting that my business committed a violation of someone else’s rights when no such thing happened?

The consequence for not returning that form is essentially “suspension from Angie’s List for a year and revocation of current outstanding awards.”  Angie’s List has so far had a net negative impact on my business since one of my kind-hearted pre-existing customers put me on it in the first place, and all I want is to be permanently removed from the list anyway.  It seems to me that I get a sweeter deal if I DON’T return the letter.  Thus, it will remain scanned in my computer for eternity but otherwise totally unused.

Wherever Angie’s List goes from here, it will do so without bothering me or my business, especially since we STILL will not accept Angie’s List referrals due to my past experience with the type of customers they seem to attract.  Stay tuned for my next post and you’ll read about something that is far more idiotic and disgusting than this whole Angie’s List deal has been–and one that directly hurts my potential earnings in my business.

UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009:

This post was originally created in April 2009, and since then, I myself have reconfirmed that Angie’s List does, yet again, indeed, suck.  My prior posts about Angie’s List’s business model, which I deleted without a way to “undelete,” are still partially valid in that the way Angie’s List works is more of a “money funnel” for the owners than a review site that works.  I’ll make a separate update post to cover the entire update, but if you’ve read the above message and think I no longer have an issue with Angie’s List, think again.  More bad customers have surfaced, and I have come up with a more general criticism of the service than I had before.  It seems that the users of Angie’s List are a worse problem than Angie’s List the company itself!  Search the blog for posts tagged “angieslist” and you’ll find the new version of “Angie’s List Sucks.”

UPDATE 2, DECEMBER 1, 2010:

I was reading some things about the Lamebook trademark dilution case with Facebook which reminded me of the Angie’s List situation, and I thought it would be a good idea to tack on some additional thoughts for anyone who happens upon this page. I didn’t post this before, but feel that for completeness it should be discussed. Angie’s List sent me a five-page letter to try to coerce me into doing what they wanted, and when I informed them that I would publish that five-page letter as well if they continued to threaten me with bogus trademark and copyright infringement lawsuits, they claimed that publishing a copy of the legal threat for the world to see would also constitute copyright infringement! Once again, there is simply no way that not-for-profit republishing of a letter received in the mail for the purposes of criticism and fact-reporting will be seriously considered by any court as copyright infringement. If that were the case, freedom of the press in this country would slow to a crawl. Companies whose memos were leaked could assert copyright protection over the memos and sue anyone who published them, for example.

Granted, I’ve not interacted with Angie’s List since the ridiculous fiasco 1.5 years ago, and I can’t complain any further. My desire is to be as complete as possible in detailing what happened to me so that others may learn from it. Angie’s List have certainly earned a reputation as trademark and copyright bullies with me, and I continue to this day to advise others to steer clear of them.  Come to think of it, does anyone even take them seriously anymore?  I’ve not heard nor read a single thing about them (not even a television commercial) for quite some time. Perhaps their era has gone “over the hill” and is on the decline.

That’s what happens to flawed business models that don’t adapt.

UPDATE 3:

I just wanted to add that if you buy an Angie’s List membership, you’ve been suckered and should get your money back ASAP. What a load of garbage that site is! Every customer that I knew was using Angie’s List has long since cancelled their membership and agrees that Angie’s List sucks hard.

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