Staying safe when you need help with your computer

| April 9, 2020

With the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people are confined to their homes and spending lots of time on their computers, both for work and for pleasure. Inevitably things go wrong with computers, and issues arise, and there has never been a greater need for computer support that doesn’t require the technician to come into your home.

I recently published a blog post about remote computer repairs and was shocked to read an unpleasant comment on a third party site a few days later, accusing me of computer fraud/scam/control/hijacking/stealing and calling me scum.

Whilst it was upsetting to be labelled in this way by someone who knows nothing about me, it got me thinking about how you can distinguish between genuine honest businesses which are there to provide a much-needed service, and those whose only purpose is to deceive and manipulate for their own gain.

When used correctly and legitimately, remote computer support is a powerful tool which means that issues can be resolved without the need for the technician to come to your place. This means no travel time for the technician, resulting in a lower cost for the client, particularly when the issue is resolved within a few minutes.

However, the whole remote support industry has been given a bad name as a result of numerous scams which have happened in recent years and which continue to abound. In fact there have been so many fraudulent remote ‘computer repair’ providers on the internet that Google no longer allows any computer repair company to advertise using their Google Ads platform.

David Graff, Director of Global Product Policy at Google, stated in August 2018, “We’ve seen a rise in misleading ad experiences stemming from third-party technical support providers and have decided to begin restricting ads in this category globally.”

This step has had a huge impact on the computer repair industry worldwide, as many small local computer repair businesses have found their ads removed from Google’s platform, resulting in a vastly reduced stream of new business.

The Unsolicited Call

Most of us are familiar with that phone call. Someone purporting to be from Microsoft, or from your telco, or your antivirus provider, or from some other company that you trust, calls you out of the blue and tells you there’s something wrong with your computer or your internet use and they need to resolve it urgently.

To do so they require access to your computer and they’ll talk you through how to install whatever remote access software they’re using, so that they can control your computer and do whatever they want. These phone calls are normally very convincing and somewhat intimidating as they use well-honed (and often successful) techniques to convince you that the issue needs to be addressed right away.

I’ve assisted many clients who’ve fallen prey to these scams, and either been swindled out of money as payment for the ‘service’ rendered, had their bank accounts accessed, or found their computers to be unusable following the intrusion.

The cardinal rule with these calls is simple: never never grant access to your computer as a result of any unsolicited call, and always give the caller extremely short shrift before they have the chance to persuade you otherwise.

The Pop-Up

Many of us are also familiar with the pop-up. It will usually be either a small window, normally at the bottom right of your screen, or a larger window right in the centre. You’ll be warned that there’s something wrong with your computer and that you need to either click through to a certain website, or call the number listed to have the issue resolved.

The message may appear to have come from Microsoft, or from a third party. The cardinal rule here is also simple: never click on the link provided or call the number listed.

Having seen the pop-up you may well be concerned about the health of your computer, but you should never follow the instructions given as the real problems will only begin after you follow these instructions. Either run a malware/virus scan to eliminate the source of the pop-up, or get in touch with a legitimate computer repair professional who will be able to assist you in an honest manner.

The Search for a Genuine Remote Computer Repair Service

There will be times when you will need to find a computer repair professional who can work remotely to resolve whatever issues you’re having. If you don’t already have someone who performs this service for you then you’ll need to find someone whom you won’t actually meet in person, but in whom you’ll be placing your trust to resolve your issues from a distance.

In general, when you search online for a computer repair or service, the results which come up in the organic search section on the first page of Google (or Bing) will be reputable companies you can trust. The reason they are there is because they’ve earned the right to be there.

Google looks for high levels of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in order to rank pages highly, and with the increasing intelligence of its algorithm, it’s become more and more difficult for low-quality, spammy websites to rank well.

Having said that you may find that, for whatever reason, none of the highest-ranking sites are quite what you need. Perhaps you’re looking for a cheaper option, or a more low-key service. You may then find yourself looking through online directories, or comparison sites, or elsewhere, comparing prices and trying to find the ideal computer repair service for you.

There are usually plenty of good options in these places too, but it may be harder to sift the wheat from the chaff. When searching in this way, and comparing computer repair services, ask some of the following questions before you make your decision.

Does the computer repair service have a company name? I regularly receive emails from people wanting to assist me with my Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), with no company name, no website, and very little that gives their pitch any credibility.

 Do they have a website? If they don’t then its very difficult to find out much about them.

 If they do have a website, is it a substantial site, with good helpful content, or is it a one page site that could have been thrown together in an hour? Does the website look ‘spammy’? Is it filled with adverts?

 Is the website entirely anonymous, or does the company tell you something about themselves, their history, and their personnel?

 Search the internet using the company name and see if you can find other external references to the company. If there’s nothing else out there about them it’s likely to be a reason to be suspicious, though of course it may also be that they just haven’t been around that long.

 Are there testimonials on their website? If so, do they look genuine? The more testimonials you can find the better. Even better is to find testimonials on independent review sites and elsewhere, for example on Google My Business.

The good news for you is that there are lots of genuine remote computer repair services out there. Once you find someone you can trust you’ll likely want to stay with them and for this reason it’s often best to find a company in your own geographical area, who also offer on-site service.

Not everything can be resolved remotely and at some point, when the coronavirus pandemic has settled down and social distancing is no longer a necessity, you may require a technician to come to you.

Good luck with your search!