Tag: dell

Common tech support and “Microsoft” scams: don’t fall for them!

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.


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.

“Special by default” function keys: a dumb idea

So many PC laptops, particularly those in the cheaper range, are now shipping with “special functions” such as screen brightness adjustment and wireless adapter on/off switching as the default action when you press the F1 through F12 function keys. On what planet was this a good idea? What kind of morons were sitting around at HP and Dell going “gee, no one ever uses F-keys, so let’s make them do something else?”

What’s the keyboard shortcut for closing a program? It’s Alt-F4. This has not changed since the days of Windows 3.1, and is a very commonly used keyboard shortcut with anyone that knows what keyboard shortcuts are at all. Not having to shuffle a mouse to the top-right corner of a box to close it literally saves many seconds of effort, and those seconds add up when multiplied across an entire day’s work. Now, however, Dell’s infinite wisdom has decided that the out-of-the-box configuration requires pressing the “Fn” function modifier key to use any of the F1-F12 keys for the functions they have maintained on their own for the past two decades. (Apparently Microsoft isn’t adding any extra combinations for “Alt-Brightness Down” anytime soon.) So, when  I get on a Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop to perform service work, I hit Alt+F4 to close windows and instead of having the intended behavior, I just accidentally turned down the LCD brightness. Now I’m on the hook to press F5 to bump up the brightness again, then hit Alt+Fn+F4 to do what I originally intended.

Oh, but if you think that’s bad, it gets far far worse! Let’s say I’m downloading a big driver file for a printer or display adapter, because these are always hundreds of megabytes in size, yet 98% of the download is extra crap that isn’t required for printing a document or making a video card show cute rotating boxes. I’m waiting on a 200MB HP printer driver to come down the pipe, and while I wait, I’m performing other tasks. I find a file I need to rename for some reason, so I click the file and hit F2 to bring up the renaming function in Windows Explorer.

Guess what? Some complete and total asshats at Dell assigned F2 to be the magical key that disables the internal wireless adapter. Instead of renaming a file as intended, I just killed my wireless connection and lost the entire download. All that time waiting is lost as well, so I now get the privilege of waiting even longer for something that never should have been aborted in the first place. Just to make matters even worse, F2 is immediately above the number 2. Anyone who needs to type a 2 and overshoots the stroke could easily end up killing off their Internet connection instead. HP isn’t much better; while they usually put the wireless switch control on the F11 key instead of F2, F11 is still above the last keys on the number row and is still easy to accidentally press. Other functions such as internal/external monitor switching are almost as annoying, but tend to self-correct when they notice there’s no monitor to switch to, and so are somewhat more forgivable.

In the BIOS settings for most of these systems, an option exists to restore the function keys to their normal function key behavior, as it should be! The user should never have to change a BIOS settings on a factory released computer just to make the keyboard work properly! My problem is that the default setting from the factory is the one which is in favor of accidentally killing off your Internet connection and messing up your screen brightness. In my extremely not-humble opinion, every manufacturer that does this is stupid. No one should purchase these computers. It’s not worth supporting this level of ignorance about how a computer is used. Combine this kind of foolishness with the “ClickPad” garbage that’s being put into lots of laptops nowadays, particularly in HP laptops, and some of the ridiculous keyboard layouts on cheap Compaqs from the past few years, and you have a recipe for a brain-dead, productivity-hostile pile of crap laptops that I wouldn’t accept for free.

Add one more thing to the growing list of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” nonsense I’m so tired of tolerating these days. Grumble, grumble.

those seconds

How’s $421.32 monthly as a PC technician sound? That’s the salary of India-outsourced PC techs!

Are you familiar with the company iYogi? They’re an India-based PC support company that is growing amazingly quickly, especially considering they’ve barely been around for four years as of this blog post. iYogi is spreading like a virus. The company that makes Avast! Antivirus outsources to them for their technical support, which is how we initially discovered that iYogi isn’t just a random one-off company: our customers at Tritech Computer Solutions started to complain that they called the Avast support phone number, got pushed to iYogi, and that iYogi told them the usual “doom and gloom” story where “your PC has problems and we will fix them for $139” or something similar. Needless to say, we provide support services to the customer already, and they were distraught when they were being pressured to pay for extra PC repair services they didn’t really need. I personally wrote to some higher-ups at Alwil Software and asked them what the deal was, and they indicated that they had received numerous complaints about iYogi’s aggressive sales tactics and that they were working with iYogi to develop a training program to eliminate the troublesome treatment of Avast! Antivirus customers. I’ve read that Microsoft and HP and Dell and Toshiba also outsource to iYogi, but can’t confirm this personally. While I’m hammering on the subject, it seems that they use 100% free scan tools such as SUPERAntiSpyware and MalwareBytes as at least part of their support services, and customers can easily install and run these without paying anything to anyone.

That’s a bit off-topic for this post, but I feel that it’s very important to the reader to understand what I have personally experienced so far as it relates to the whole salary topic in the title. Today, I once again ran into iYogi because they apparently have sponsored videos on YouTube, and I wanted to find out what on earth they were doing that kept them “in the spotlight” so heavily all the time. Clearly, the video production, massive advertising, and partnering with major vendors as their technical support outsource company requires a LOT of money to keep going. That’s how I ended up finally breaking down and looking at the number one cost of business: paying people a fair wage to do the actual work.

Note that I’ll be using United States dollars as the currency from here on out; that way I don’t have to write “USD$” over and over.

The median hourly wage for a PC help desk technician in the United States circles around $15.00 or so (source: PayScale.com), depending on how lofty the title is (“analysts” make more than “representatives” etc.) and we’ll assume that they work a 40-hour work week, 8 hours per day, approximately 21 days per month (Monday through Friday). That’s about $2,520 per month in gross wages, or roughly $30K/year.

A job posting I found on PlacementIndia.com (which will probably be deleted before you read this) for a position titled “Required IT Application Helpdesk Support Executive” at Unistanz Software – Mumbai, Maharashtra, lists the following requirements: “Bachelor Degree, B.A, B.Com, or B.Sc” and 2-5 years experience. It is a full-time position, and the monthly wage is stated to be Rs. 15,000-20,000. (Rs. is Indian rupees, a form of currency.)

A quick spin over to the CoinMill.com currency converter for INR to USD reveals that the United States dollar equivalent is $315.99-$421.32 PER MONTH.

You read that correctly. Indian tech support agents with a four-year degree command a monthly salary that, according to these numbers, is between 12.53% to 16.74% of the monthly salary of an American technician that may not even have a degree at all. In other words, I could reduce my largest cost of doing business to ONE SIXTH OF THE CURRENT COST if it can be outsourced to India.

That’s why iYogi can charge a rate that is insanely low: $169.99 per customer per year for what they advertise as essentially unlimited technical support. A cover feature piece in India Inc. magazine states that iYogi has 6,000 people manning the phones, so doing obvious math, those people cost between $1,896,000 and $2,532,000 per month to employ (based on the pay scale I found advertised for a similar position at a different company). Dividing all that by the $170 per year fee (I used integer math, it’s one penny, get over it) the company requires 133,824-178,728 yearly paying customers to pay their people. I realize that this example ignores a whole host of other business expenses and staff; I’m only trying to get a rough idea of how much money is required to roughly break even on the actual workers, to make a point later.

So we can safely assume that iYogi has well over 180,000 yearly customers since they’re supposedly growing with the force of a deadly plague. What would it cost to employ American workers at the stated American wages, in place of the outsourced workers? Well, at $2,520 per month for 6,000 workers, $15,120,000 per month. That’s almost exactly SIX TIMES MORE. Using this “six times more” ratio, the equivalent yearly fee charged to the customer would need to be $1,020 per year to cover those workers’ wages, which works out to around $85 per month. iYogi’s yearly fee divides out to $28.33 per month.

Another way to put all of this in perspective is this: with the $2,532,000 that iYogi pays out for 6,000 call center workers, an equivalent American firm can only hire 1,004 people…and keep in mind that all of these figures ignore the standard 3-tier technician model, where Tier 2 and Tier 3 are paid much more due to possessing more experience and skill. Taking tiers into account requires information I don’t have, but consider that if Tier 2 makes 30% more on average than a Tier 1, the worker in India will be paid $127 more per month, while the U.S. worker will be paid $504 more per month. That’s notable because the difference in those pay raises equates to the cost of another Indian Tier 1 technician!

What should you take away from all of this calculator dancing and long-winded discussion? Indian workers cost about one-sixth of American workers to employ for completing any given labor effort that is capable of being outsourced. That’s why iYogi is doing so well: American firms can’t compete unless the call center workers can get six times the work done in the same time frame as the equivalent Indian worker. Can it be done? I don’t know. “Work smarter, not harder” has long been the reason for my company, Tritech Computer Solutions, being able to often pump out ten or more computer repairs in a day with only one technician on staff, but having been an individual self-employed computer technician that at one point lacked both the resources and the knowledge that I possess today, I can definitively say that even the best techs I’ve ever met don’t do six times the work of a “newbie” technician. (Though we definitely avoid the high rate of return or of creating angry customers, but that’s a story for another day!)

There are other factors that work in favor of U.S.-based technical support call centers, though, and once a critical mass of individuals is reached that becomes fed up with this outsourcing trend, we may see outsourced support diminish considerably. In America, we’ve recently learned to accept lower quality goods and services if they come with a sufficiently lower price tag, so we don’t give it a second thought until we discover first-hand what kind of serious quality issues can arise. Dell became the poster child for terrible India-based outsourced technical support staff because they were one of the first huge companies to make the switch (though XPS “premium” support remained stateside), and the backlash can be heard around the United States to this day. Customers in the United States find it highly frustrating to spend a significant amount of time on the telephone attempting to understand what the agent halfway around the world is trying to say, and the fact that most Tier 1 technicians follow “idiot-proof scripts” to the letter only adds insult to injury. When a Tritech technician calls Dell support to have a replacement for a customer’s failing hard drive shipped in to fulfill the Dell warranty obligations, and the person on the other end only repeats lines from some unseen magic flowchart on their desk which results in a 30-minute call that could have taken five minutes, the depressing failure of outsourced technical support starts to become apparent.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of properly conducted American tech support is that their communication is immediately comprehensible to the caller without unnecessary requests for repetition. Being capable of adapting (if not forced to stick to a script the whole time) is also very crucial; while representatives cannot be given unlimited power over the remedies they may make available to the customer, giving them enough freedom to break from the procedural flowchart can greatly reduce call times and improve service experiences for the help desk technician, the customer, and the company in general.

A classic and very personal example of this would be when I had to call T-Mobile technical support to have my G1 smartphone replaced under warranty. The gentleman with whom I spoke was clearly a native English speaker, knowledgeable about both his job and the devices he was required to support, and willing to work with me on my level of technical aptitude. After I explained that I had rooted the phone myself, and detailed the exhaustive number of steps I had performed to figure out why the wifi was not functioning anymore where it had been perfectly fine with the same rooted firmware for months prior, he gladly skipped ALL OF THE DIAGNOSTIC STEPS ENTIRELY and simply set me up with a warranty replacement to be shipped out immediately. Imagine how long I would have been on the line if he had refused to accept my reports of having performed every diagnostic test known to man, started at step one, and had me reboot the phone, then try pulling the battery, then factory reset the phone, then…well, you get the idea. When that replacement phone decided to completely refuse to work as a USB mass storage device with my computers a few months after that, I had an identical experience with a very nice lady in technical support.

Yet when I call Dell and tell the Indian guy on the other line that we’ve run software which initiates a read of every sector on the customer’s hard drive from beginning to end and that unreadable sectors were detected, the experience was disastrous and we were forced to run Dell’s built-in diagnostics and read a Dell-specific code out before they would even consider sending a hard drive out. My software was questioned, my methodology was questioned, and when I was asked what prompted the drive test and revealed that the customer originally had viruses on the computer, I was told “we cannot fix viruses, you need to call the paid support people for that.” Riiiight, because somehow “the hard drive is failing” wasn’t the reason we called, it was now magically “viruses” that were the entirety of the problem. Needless to say, the customer and all of my technicians heard the conversation on speakerphone and we concluded that the Indian guy was either a complete idiot, deathly afraid of losing his job, or both. It was an extremely customer-hostile experience, and it was repeated twice because I called back twice, hoping to talk to a different person that wasn’t a complete idiot…and failing to do so. Apparently, Dell doesn’t care about customer service. Minimizing the cost of warranty fulfillment is priority one.

We need American tech support, but to get it, we have to be willing to pay the price. On the cheaper end of technical assistance, you tend to get what you pay for.

I know that this has been a very long post, but thank you for reading it. If you have any thoughts or more information, or you’re an insider of some sort that knows more than I can learn simply by trolling the Web, please comment below. I’d also like to hear from ANYONE in the United States that has had a personal experience with iYogi, either positive or negative.






By the way…there are more technical jobs that require significant knowledge yet pay even less than the one I used for this article. Here’s another that pays Rs. 10,000 – 15,000:


iYogi complaints and reviews at this next link are quite scathing; according to one post, they ask their employees to drop tons of fake positive comments around the Internet in favor of the company:


Dell laptops reject third-party batteries and AC adapters/chargers. Hardware vendor lock-in?

It seems that Dell has set up their hardware to be very consumer-unfriendly.  Ever since the charcoal gray Dell Pentium 4 laptops came out, Dell started to force out third-party power-related items for some reason.  Dell laptops that take PA-9 series AC adapters have to be sent some sort of special signal that indicates a 90W-capable PA-9 adapter is plugged in, or else the laptop assumes a PA-6 is plugged in, issues an ominous warning about how it’s lowering the unit’s performance because of the adapter not being right, and forces you to press something in order to continue starting up.  Of course, using a different connector from the PA-6 type would have solved that problem much more easily, as no one could accidentally plug a PA-6 into a PA-9 power jack, but apparently Dell didn’t think about that.

The same thing happened when Dell transitioned from PA-10 to PA-12 adapters: they kept the huge outer ring with the tiny center pin, but the PA-12 tells the laptop that it’s the higher wattage model.  This sort of makes sense, though: a processor that requires the extra 25W boost to run at full speed would overload a lower-wattage adapter and present a possible fire hazard, or could just burn out the adapter and force the purchase of a replacement.

However, I have noticed a very annoying trend as of late: Dell laptops that use a PA-10 or PA-12 adapter seem to be very good at figuring out that an attached adapter is third-party, particularly the ones requiring PA-12 series.  I have purchased numerous Dell replacement adapters from third-party vendors, and it seems that initially these adapters work perfectly fine without a hitch for about a month.  Then, at some point, the laptop decides that the adapter is no longer a correct PA-12 adapter, claims that it doesn’t recognize the attached AC adapter, and has the usual tantrum.  How can an adapter work just fine for a month, then suddenly be not good enough, despite obviously powering the unit just fine?  What makes this even worse is that some units refuse to charge the battery when this happens. It sounds more like Dell is attempting to lock out third-party hardware (and doing a very good job of it) than trying to ensure the unit receives adequate wattage.

The saga continues with the plethora of third-party Dell batteries out there that these Dell laptops refuse to charge after an obscenely short time.  There are widespread reports on the Internet of people purchasing Dell replacement batteries that eventually stop working.  Of course, some failures are inevitable, but the problem being Dell’s doing became obvious after we helped at least four separate customers purchase (from four totally different vendors) third-party Dell replacement batteries for GD761 and KD476 laptop batteries.  In all four cases, the batteries would charge and work wonderfully, often holding a charge for hours of off-AC use, and then one day, for no apparent reason, the Dell laptop determines that the battery is not a valid battery and refuses to charge the battery with an annoying orange blinking battery light.

One or two batteries would be easy to write off as a fluke or a bad batch or a coincidence, but four batteries from four different vendors, all of which are similar only because they don’t have a “DELL” brand stamp on the pack?  It couldn’t be more obvious that Dell has put special circuitry and programming into their laptops to disable third-party batteries.  I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I call it how I see it, and four totally different batteries can’t all be wrong.  If Dell didn’t charge $200 for a replacement battery that costs less than one fifth of that to make and bring to market, I’d just tell everyone to buy replacement batteries straight from Dell.

The problems appear to be ongoing and systemic, too; for example, one poster reports that his two otherwise identical Dell branded batteries for a Dell Latitude XT and a Dell Latitude XT2 are not interchangeable, despite having the exact same Dell part number and being official Dell batteries.  If these laptops have serious problems recognizing official Dell batteries, what does that imply about non-Dell branded ones?  It sounds like Dell has spent too much time engineering ways to lock out third parties and not enough time thinking about their customers’ needs.

What would motivate this?  Two things.  One, profits from battery sales (and upgrades and accessory sales in general) are Dell’s biggest money maker, and two, every $200 battery sale seems (based on some third-party replacements being $50 or less) to carry a gross profit of over $150.

The problem is that I can buy any third-party component I want for an HP or Toshiba or Acer or Gateway, and it will gleefully run with my choice.  Dell appears to be the only computer manufacturer (sort of; Dell owns the Alienware brand) that designs ALL of their computers to discourage or outright block third-party components.  Even the desktops tend to be either the long-defunct and universally hated BTX case form factor (like a Dimension E510) or a small form factor variant of BTX (think of the XPS 200, which also has an extremely serious design flaw that causes the hardware to overheat).  Replacement motherboards for these desktops MUST be a matching Dell board, which usually forces the buyer to purchase even more parts to fix a motherboard failure, because now the computer’s case, power supply, and CPU heatsink/fan assembly all have to be replaced as well, often pushing the costs of a motherboard replacement above $200.

Such is the hidden cost of buying a computer from any manufacturer that does not adhere to the long-time industry de facto standard ATX form factor.  Every major computer parts outlet such as CompUSA and Newegg sells ATX cases, power supplies, motherboards, and standardized heatsink assemblies that only change depending on the type of socket a processor fits into.  Any computer tech worth a fig can find a replacement part for a fully ATX compliant design in a matter of minutes, and physically install or replace it without a single problem.  These weird cases that some manufacturers use now are a serious problem and the benefits of sticking with ATX compatible designs deserves an entire essay all by itself.  For now, just be sure that if you buy a computer, it doesn’t have one of those giant holes in the front and it isn’t a cute-looking itty bitty tiny case.  Also, when you look at the rear of the case, all of the connectors should be on the LEFT side with all of the add-in card slots on the BOTTOM; if either or both is reversed, it’s not ATX and you’re getting ripped off and locked in to that vendor’s own exclusive premium-priced parts inventory.  In other words, the cost to get OUT of that computer will be higher than a standard design.

I seem to have diverged from the original point, so in closing, I’ll just say this: DON’T BUY DELL LAPTOPS.  If nothing else convinces you, this will: one of my techs worked for Dell’s premium (paid) tech support (and was the highest rated support agent in the building!), and I ran all of this by him just to be sure that I wasn’t blowing smoke from my backside.  Not only did he agree that I’m hitting the mark squarely, he also confirmed with this exact quote: “I would NEVER buy a new Dell laptop.”