Saturday, January 27 – the day is burned into my brain. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? I logged into my computer that morning and tried to start working, but my computer was so sluggish it was taking minutes to respond to the simplest task, such as opening a new email. Frustrated, I called Dell Support. Apparently, I was not the only one having problems that day, as the support recorded message said they were busy and I should expect a 45 minute wait. Well, after 2 hours on hold (yes, 129 minutes on hold) a rep finally came to the line. Then he took 2 hours to diagnose what was wrong with my laptop. It took that long because the machine was responding so slowly to all commands. He decided I needed to replace my hard disk drive (HDD), and ordered a replacement. He suggested I start backing up my data in anticipation of the new HDD installation for the coming Tuesday.
As most of my readers know, I have been using a private cloud storage service (as opposed to Google Docs, Dropbox or the like) since 2008. I try to treat my laptop like a dumb terminal in the sense that it hosts my program files, but all my data files are stored in the cloud. But hey, like anyone else, I sometimes get lazy and don’t move files up to the cloud as diligently as I should. So I spent the next 2 hours backing up files to my cloud storage, and photos to my local external HDD. After 6 hours of a Saturday wasted on these problems, I was exhausted, so I stopped for the day.
Later that evening, I received an email from the Dell rep saying he believed a bad update to the Malware Bytes program caused my computer’s problems – the update created a memory leak which hogged the computer’s resources. I Googled it, and sure enough, found the Malware Bytes Facebook (FB) page with several posts announcing the bug, and the fix. First bad decision: I let my mean streak take over, and I posted a nastygram on the Malware Bytes FB page complaining about how much time I had wasted with Dell support and whining that they had not notified their user base directly via email about the problem.
Now in Malware Bytes defense, any software developer can push out a bad update; many have, and many will. It is not malicious; it is life. Malware Bytes owned up to it, posted an apology and information on their FB page, and replied to all customer comments. But I have to ask myself, how many people with a computer problem think to themselves, “Hmm, my computer is having a problem. Why don’t I go to the Malware Bytes Facebook page and see if they are reporting any issues with their software?” Answer: darn few. Sigh. I still think Malware Bytes should have been able to push out an email to all their customers about the issue, instead of using Facebook as their primary method of communication.
How Things Went From Bad to Worse
On Sunday, I got a call from Dell Support. The rep said he was following up on my support case from Saturday, and wanted to start a remote session. He asked me to download TeamViewer. When I asked why we were using TeamViewer instead of going to www.support.dell.com and downloading their screen sharing widget, as we had done the previous day, he had some answer which I didn’t write down. That was Red Flag #1. Then he said he would talk to me while his colleague in another office worked on the computer, and he would relay info between us – Red Flag #2. As I watched the screen, I saw the ghost colleague disable my Dell user password – Red Flag #3. Then the rep said he needed to charge my credit card $5.00 to download a license we needed. When I said I had already pre-paid for a 2-year support plan, he insisted he just need $5.00 for a small license fee – Red Flag #4. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that I was not talking to a Dell support rep after all! I asked him for my support case number from yesterday; he could not find it. I then asked him for my laptop’s Service Tag number, something Dell refers to for all equipment. When he said, “uh, Service Tag?” I hung up the phone and held down the power switch on my laptop until it turned off. The guy then had the nerve to call me back and ask if I had hung up on him! I said I certainly had. When he asked, “Why?” I said, “because I don’t believe you are from Dell” and I hung up on him again. That was the only good part of the day!
Next I re-started my laptop, and, no surprise, it asked for a boot-up password which I did not have. So to recap: I ignored Red Flags and let a stranger into my computer. The stranger changed my computer’s password, and installed who knows what other software on my computer.
I immediately called the real Dell support, and spent the next 2 hours re-installing the Windows Operating System on my laptop, using a 2-year old boot disk. So I then had to download 128 Windows Updates, and then wait for them all to install. This took most of Sunday. I also had to re-load all my program software, including MS Office, my drivers, re-connect my email, etc. The list goes on and on. The good news: my laptop now sings along like it did when it was brand new. The bad news: I was a sucker.
- If your computer is having problems, Google the symptoms to see if you can find out if there is an issue-of-the-day affecting not just you, but everyone else too.
- Don’t post nastygrams on FB, especially if your FB name is your real name. Bad guys troll FB and look for suckers who they can then Google, find a phone number, and call, pretending to be someone else.
- Don’t let strangers into your computer. How often does Dell really call you back the next day? Uh, almost never. Dell does send emails from which you can schedule a call. If someone does call, get a support case reference number or other reference, to confirm they are who they say they are.
- DON’T IGNORE THOSE RED FLAGS! No matter how frustrated you are with a situation, listen to your gut and don’t proceed if it doesn’t feel right.
If you think you’re too smart for this to happen to you, you may be right! In my defense, I’m a reasonably smart person, but I still got suckered. I will say that because I caught on in time, none of my data was stolen – I was just locked out of my machine. Luckily I figured it out, even if it was too late. So be careful out there!
Jody Linick is an AIPB Certified Bookkeeper and a QuickBooks® Certified Pro Advisor. Her company, FitBooks Pro (formerly called Linick Consulting), specializes in remote bookkeeping services using hosted QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online. You can find her series of Blog posts here.