British comedy “The IT Crowd” (2006-2013) starred two small business IT support technicians and their not-so-computer-savvy manager. The show revolves around social interactions between these two “standard nerds” (as the company owner refers to them) and the office workers around them, poking fun at both the inability of the two young men to communicate effectively with the rest of the company, and the inability of the company staff to handle even the most simple computer tasks.
In fact, the catch phrase of Roy, one of the two IT support staff is the way he answers the phone at the office – “Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?” The IT Crowd exaggerated both the technological incompetency of the company staff and the awkwardness of the two IT support guys.
Comedy from Computer Repairs
Many episodes revolve around the IT staff using their know-how to pull a fast one on their manager as a prank or as a way to exact revenge. During one episode, they inform their manager that if you “google” the word “google” you will break the Internet. “Hilarity ensues” when the manager solemnly announces this to the company board of directors during a meeting.
Unfortunately, every joke does have a kernel of truth in it, even jokes on shows like the IT Crowd. Some computer repair shops, much the show’s IT tech, will take advantage of a consumer’s lack of home computer repair knowledge to suit their own purposes, like gaining an extra buck, getting access to sensitive information, or to receive accolades from a poorly managed repair company.
Indeed, for denizens of California, taking your computer to a repair shop offering computer repair in Los Angeles can invoke feelings of vulnerability that are similar to bringing your car to a mechanic you do not know. How can you be sure that they are not ripping you off by insisting that you buy a part you do not need, or making you blow your money by claiming your repair will take hours when it can be fixed in minutes?
Red Flags for a Computer Repair Shop that Might be Ripping You Off
The first red flag you should be on the lookout for is a sales company presenting itself as a computer repair company. There are many well publicized cases of a computer repair company calling consumers to sell them services over the phone requiring the victim to ship a device to them, sometimes never returning the computers or cellphones. Bear in mind that a reputable computer repair company will not have to aggressively solicit customers.
That means if a company you do not know is calling you to sell you repair services, you should think twice about why this place is so hard up for clients. It should go without saying that you should ensure any computer repair company is licensed and check online for third party reviews on sites other than the main company website. Ask a prospective repair company for references directly as well. Of course a clerk at the shop is not going to give you the contact information of a very unhappy customer, but this is a way to articulate to the shop that you are willing to take steps to ensure that they are legitimate.
Other Warning Signs
Another red flag that you should look out for is a clerk letting you know that they can do “X” repair for you, at a reduced price, but only if you agree to the repair immediately. Again, this is an example of a computer tech behaving more like a salesman than a repairman. It is a tactic we have all been confronted with to pressure us into buying something at some point in our lives, and although it is not a sure sign that the company you are talking to is ripping you off, it may be wise to approach the situation with caution.
For example, make sure you obtain the repair company’s bid in writing. Much like asking a repair company directly for references, insisting that you obtain a bid in writing is a preventative measure to let a potential scam artist know you are taking measures to ensure that you do not end up spending more than you agree to.
Yes, a computer repair shop may be legitimately offering a deal for a set amount of time to encourage sales. But other times, pressuring consumers to agree to get a repair service is just a way to get their foot in the door. You may walk in to the shop, find your computer or device in pieces, and a technician telling you that they encountered an additional problem that will take much more money to fix.
A similar scam may involve a computer repair shop offering the lowest bid, then informing you later that the repairs will cost more. It’s a smart idea to get multiple bids from repair companies. If one bid is much lower, proceed with reasonable caution. Keep a record of all correspondence like emails, receipts and bids. Check in advance if the contractor charges for your initial evaluation. In some cases, this is fair. In the case of in-home computer repair, a contractor takes the time out of her busy schedule to make a home visit.
Another red flag is if a company only accepts cash as payment. This is not a definite sign of a scam, but is certainly a statement about how the company does business. Obtain a receipt detailing the work that has been done, and pay by credit card whenever possible, that way if a problem presents itself early on, you can halt payment through your card.
Beware of Tech Jargon
Like the IT crowd techs, some “computer people” have difficulty explaining more esoteric concepts to people that don’t know as much about the technology. If a tech uses excessive jargon, it might just mean the tech is having difficulty articulating himself.
But excessive jargon may also be a red flag. It might even be a sign of a tech not really understanding how a computer works and over-compensating by utilizing a lot of “tech talk.” In these cases, a repairman might suggest you have to buy a new hard drive while a more experienced consultant might realize it’s a simple problem with a cable.
Finally, be wary if a computer repair shop also sells computer components. Although many of these companies are legitimate, a scam might entail a consultant telling you that your computer is beyond repair, but good news – they sell new computers at their shop. If a component of your computer needs to be replaced, insist that you want to see, and keep the broken part.
There ARE Good Guys to Serve You!
Luckily, consumers seeking computer repair in Los Angeles have decent protection from California state law. Every business that employs electronic technicians must have a license that can be revoked if the company receives too many complaints.
A final piece of advice: don’t be afraid to assert yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask questions that will help you understand the situation better. Someone that loves what they do will appreciate your interest and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. By familiarizing yourself with common computer repair scams and ways to handle them, you won’t have to feel as vulnerable or at the mercy of a shop. A great computer repair shop that employs people passionate about technology and providing great customer service will be happy to satisfy the requests mentioned above.