Andy 'gets Wise' to computer repair services - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Andy 'gets Wise' to computer repair services

Our test computer, which was in perfect operating condition, except for the fact that the hard drive was unplugged. (Source: WMC Action News 5) Our test computer, which was in perfect operating condition, except for the fact that the hard drive was unplugged. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

One Best Buy Geek Squad held our computer hostage. Another charged us for a service never rendered. A locally owned computer repair shop misdiagnosed our problem.

Our hidden camera investigation didn't give us much confidence in Mid-South options for computer repair.

We worked with 36-year-veteran electronics and computer expert Lee Cooper of Cooper Systems in Fox Meadows. His chief technician Larry Watson set up a decoy computer: a 2011 Lenovo ThinkCentre with a 250 GB Western Digital hard drive, Intel Core 2 duo processor and 4 GB of RAM. Watson equipped it with WinZip for compressed files, iTunes, Mozilla FireFox browser and VLC media player -- basic data to appear as an active customer's PC. He formatted and fitted it with Windows 7, as well as with all service packs, driver updates and anti-spyware/malware/virus scans.

"There is nothing wrong with this computer," Watson said. "All I have done is unhook the data cable (from the hard drive)."

That's it. The hard drive's simply unplugged. The computer will power up, but it will display an data error message on the screen. Cooper said if it came in blindly to his shop, his technicians would figure it out within 30 minutes. "We'd just plug it in and boot it up," he said. "We'd find the cable, reconnect it. If the customer wants further diagnostics, we could do that, and that would also be included in the check-in fee of $65."

We delivered the computer to the Geek Squad at Best Buy's Wolfchase area store, 2755 N. Germantown Parkway. The technician told us the diagnostic charge is $99.99 plus tax, and someone would be in touch within 24-48 hours with a diagnosis.

After 48 hours, no call.

Our undercover producer paid the store a visit. Our computer hadn't even made it to the bench yet. In fact, Best Buy's Geek Squad on Germantown Parkway held our computer for a week, only to correctly diagnosis the detached data cable and reconnect it. The technician included the "fix" as part of the $99.99 plus tax diagnostic charge.

We delivered it back to Cooper Systems. Watson examined the computer and confirmed Best Buy's Germantown Parkway Geek Squad did reconnect the cable and nothing else. 

After resetting the computer to our test mode with the cable detached, we took it to Best Buy's Geek Squad between Hickory Hill and Southwind, 7771 Winchester Road. The unidentified Geek Squad employee plugged the computer in at the store. "You have a corrupted operating system," he said. "That could be a fault hard drive, which would be at least $110, $120, so I would probably buy another computer, to be honest. It's more economical, in my opinion."

Remember, nothing's wrong with the hard drive. It's just unplugged.

The employee asked our undercover producer if she wants Best Buy to keep the computer or recycle it, without offering to run a diagnostic check. She told him she'd prefer if they would take a look at it and diagnose what's wrong with it. "We can try to figure out what's wrong with it, try to get it working in its current state, for $150," he said. "Or $200 if you want to put a whole new hard drive in it."

Our producer paid $150 for a diagnostic check.

Two days later, a Best Buy Geek Squad Winchester Road employee called our producer to tell her the hard drive must be replaced. She declined the replacement and visited the store the next day.

"Your hard drive has gone out," the unidentified employee said on hidden camera. "The hard drive has failed our diagnostics. Basically, it's almost like it's not reading the hard drive, and normally that's a tell-tale sign that the hard drive has gone out."

We delivered the computer immediately to Cooper Systems. Watson opened it up and discovered the hard drive's data cable was still disconnected, just as we had left it.

When we alerted Best Buy corporate spokesperson Danielle Schumann, she conducted her own investigation. According to Schumann, nobody at the Winchester Road store ever opened our computer. Yet, the employee said it had failed the store's diagnostic check.

We paid Best Buy's Geek Squad on Winchester Road $150 for a diagnostic service that was never performed.

"Our technicians help thousands of clients solve complex tech problems every day, and we are proud to be trusted by so many," Schumann wrote in an email statement attributable to Best Buy. "The fact of the matter is though, we need to do better than we did in these specific cases. We're looking into why this happened so we can better serve our customers in the future." 

Again, we 'reset' our computer, detaching the data cable. We delivered it to PC Doctor, 7075 Malco Boulevard in Southaven, Mississippi. The shop's lobby and website are adorned with Desoto Times Tribune "Desoto Best Of" awards and testimonials of happy customers -- all of which we verified are true. PC Doctor charged us $26.75 for a diagnostic check. Remember, the data cable is simply unplugged.

But PC Doctor's technician told our producer the power supply is shot. It needs to be replaced, he said, at a cost of nearly $70 for the power supply itself and another $25 for labor.

Our producer declined the service, then delivered the computer to Cooper Systems. For some reason, the computer won't power up. Watson opened its casing. Not only was the data cable still unplugged, but so was the CD-ROM cable and the motherboard cable. "The entire power supply is completely unplugged from the board," Watson said.

"Three cables were disconnected, simulating a bad power supply," Cooper added. "That just appears deceptive to me."

"I feel terrible," said Jon Parks, owner of PC Doctor. He said his technician made an honest mistake. "It looked like he grabbed the wrong sheet of paper that's attached to each computer and read off the diagnosis of the machine that was sitting next to it," he said.

When we told him that if we had gone through with the service, we would have paid for an unnecessary repair, Parks answered, "Well, maybe. And I say maybe because we have a list of standard operating procedures."

Item #6 on that list: Verify Diagnosis. "Had we (verified), we would have seen that the power supply was not the issue," he said. As far as our computer being returned with the entire power supply disconnected, Parks said, "That goes back to that standard operating procedure. We really know that something was blown there."

Contrast that with our experience at Patton Computers, 264 Market Boulevard in Collierville, Tennessee. Within minutes, a technician had found the loose data cable, connected it and included the service in our $89 diagnostic fee. But curiously, Patton Computers offers two diagnostic fees:  the standard $89 fee and a $149 fee for "expedited repair."

"I don't see how they can promise expedited service on everything," Cooper said. "There are some computer services that just can't be expedited."

In an email to WMC Action News 5, Billy Patton, owner of Patton Computers, said, "Expedited service does not give you same day service. It only entitles you to moving to the front of the queue. You are still bound with whatever the job entails, which could be up to several days."

What happened to us illustrated why it is so difficult to choose a reliable computer repair shop. Better Business Bureau records and online customer reviews can be helpful, but there is neither a license requirement for computer repair technicians (only business licenses for the shops and shop owners) nor an independent accountability standard for computer repair.

Tim Fisher, PC support expert for About.com, shared these suggestions for shopping computer repair services:

* CALL YOUR COMPUTER'S TECH SUPPORT FIRST. After all, they built the thing in the first place, and they may be able to either help you fix it yourself or have you send it to them.

* GET A SPECIFIC REFERRAL. Talk to friends, family or the I-T guy at work about where they've had repairs done.

* ASK ABOUT MINIMUM AND HOURLY CHARGES. Fisher said $50 to $75 an hour is the average acceptable diagnostic charge range. Obviously, you should expect to pay more for the cost to repair or replace your device.

* BACK UP, THEN REMOVE YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION before giving a shop your computer. Eliminate any risk of identity theft or password corruption.

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