How to keep Apple Geniuses from pouring whiskey into your Mac

Whiskey glass, courtesy of ShutterstockPoor consumers.

Not only must we contend with Domino’s Pizza workers passing gas on salami or Best Buy Geek Squads misdiagnosing and overcharging for simple cases of IDE cables unplugged from hard drives, now we also have to fret that Apple store Geniuses are going to use our hard drives for skateboards and/or destroy all our data if we’re rude to them.

This latest bit of retail malevolence was reported by Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle in his story “Confessions from the Most Corrupt Apple Store in America.

I can’t resist giving a quick hit from the long list of malfeasances Biddle’s sources allege: a store manager swapping computers in exchange for a stomach-stapling operation, stolen employee bonuses, and repeated destruction of devices and ringing up of new ones for employees and friends as fake customers.

Much of that is likely to interest Apple stockholders and fan boys/girls.

But what’s of far greater concern to us, the consumers, is the idea that yes, any gadget you bring in for repair could be damaged when it’s out of your control, and all your data could be forfeit.

Biddle writes:

Ever been a jerk to an Apple Genius? Bad idea. Ever seen someone approach the bar with a noxious attitude and a litany of dumb questions? They probably got what they deserved. The Geniuses always get theirs. How? By pouring whiskey into a customer's Mac. Or by mocking them enough to erect a shrine in the back room to whiny, dumb customers.

He then gives this transcript of a conversation with one of his Apple Genius sources [“Ronald”] with regards to the skateboarding thing:

6:07:35 PM Ronald: ive used someone else's hard drive as a skateboard cause he told the store I smelled
6:08:05 PM Ronald: or we just erase people's hard drives that are assholes
6:08:12 PM sambiddle: wouldn't they complain?
6:08:31 PM Ronald: they signed a form that legally made us not responsible for data
6:08:59 PM sambiddle: what happened when they came in and complained?
6:09:06 PM Ronald: show them what they signed
6:09:29 PM Ronald: we tell them multiple times that this could happen

AppleThis isn’t about Apple. Every retailer hires bad apples (no pun intended).

Most Apple employees are probably conscientious workers. Every retail chain likely has horror stories to report that are similar to those in the Gizmodo piece.

But your equipment and your data is vulnerable even when repair shops aren’t deliberately, belligerently messing with it.

In a perfect world, we’ve all encrypted our data and backed it up to an external hard drive or other secure spot before our device crashes and before we hand it over to a repair shop.

If you’re not encrypting and backing up (and encrypting backups of) your data, the Apple story should be a reminder to do so.

Roger Hagedorn, a network administrator and CISSP, told me he found the Apple story “horrifying”. People like him don’t actually give much thought to protecting data while having devices repaired because, well, he’s usually the one doing the repair.

But he has thought a lot about proper disposal of devices and the importance of carefully wiping information before parting with hardware.

His advice for iPhone or iPad issues that require sending out – and this can be carried over to all devices, of course, not just the iWhatevers – is to do a complete and encrypted backup of the device, and then erase it.

This is especially important if the device contains significant contact or password info or any sensitive files, he said.

Once the gadget’s back from the shop, you can then perform a restore.

Backing up data goes for PCs, as well, particularly since newbie techs’ preferred solution “tends to be ‘wipe and rebuild'”, Hagedorn said.

But since data can be spread all over the hard drive, deleting it can be tough. He says he’d use something like CCleaner – a freeware system optimisation and privacy tool that erases internet history and other unused files, and cleans up orphaned registry entries – to flush all the caches and remove passwords from the browsers.

Beyond those precautions, Scambusters has some great tips that can help stop repair scam artists, be they Geniuses or Geek Squad-ers or the workers at the dusty computer shop on Main Street.

Here are some of Scambusters’ tips that are particularly relevant to electronic gadget repair:

Man breaking computer, courtesy of Shutterstock

  • Thoroughly check out anyone you’re planning on to do your repairs. Are they licensed/bonded? Are they listed in the phone book? … Is the engineer or tech certificated for the work? Have many complaints against them been lodged?
  • Unless you’ve already worked with the repair provider and trust their reputation, always get a second and, preferably, a third bid for comparison. This alone has saved Scambusters thousands of dollars, they report, with a 40% or 50% difference in price not uncommon.
  • Check in advance whether the contractor will charge for investigating the cause and producing an estimate. This can be expensive, so make sure you know upfront what the fee will be. Although free estimates are wonderful, when it’s someone you’ve called out to your home or time consuming to create the estimate, it may be fair for them to charge for their time. Also, find out if there’s a minimum charge.
  • Bids should be in writing and include not only costs but how long the work will take. When comparing bids, make sure they’re like-for-like – covering the same scope of work and quality of materials.
  • Remove, password-protect or encrypt sensitive materials.
  • Beware of sending items, like cell phones and iPods, away for repairs unless it’s to the manufacturer or the retailer you bought it from. Online and classified ads offering cheap fixes could be a front for a repair scam. You’ll likely never see the item again.
  • Beware of being bamboozled by jargon. Repair scammers and even legit engineers and geeks may use terms you don’t understand, either innocently or to try to convince you they know what they’re doing. If you don’t understand, ask. If it’s a repair scam, the crook will either not be able to answer or won’t look you in the eye when they try to explain.

To Scambusters’ tips, I’d like to add one more: be kind to retail workers. Be kind to restaurant workers, too.

There’s no sense in taunting people who put their hands on your precious gadgets.

Besides, the world has no need for an elevated level of jerkitude.

Hagedorn put it well:

All I can say is that it’s always good practice to treat people with respect and dignity … and hope that they respond in kind.

Amen to that.

Man breaking computer and whiskey glass, courtesy of Shutterstock.