The Geek Squad is arguably one of the largest corporate repair groups in the US, with technicians available at virtually every Best Buy store and even a few stand-alone shops around the country. As a whole, Best Buy has a reputation for being the largest electronics chain in the country and covering a wide variety of needs from entertainment to computer repair. After purchasing the Geek Squad brand, Best Buy has expanded its support services to the UK, making it one of the largest (if not the largest) single tech support organizations in the world.
That said, it’s important that I stress that the examples listed below are likely isolated incidents, but they do serve as reminders that you are handing your phone, computer, camera, or other miscellaneous gadget over to strangers whenever you take them in for repair. You don’t always have time to hide your personal files when your computer or phone breaks, so it should stand to reason that these employees are expected to have a level of responsibility that doesn’t include snooping where they don’t belong (or making copies of these files when they do find them).
Back in 2007, the Consumerist launched a sting after receiving multiple confessions across more than a few states indicating that stealing pornographic or otherwise embarrassing images from customers’ computers was common practice. In fact, the Consumerist received a detailed how-to from a Geek Squad employee that explained exactly how technicians justify access to your directories, copy the files, and distribute them to other employees. Stories of cache systems shared by employees were also present, indicating that some (rogue) technicians are turning private files into community property behind the scenes.
It’s important to note here that this isn’t the rule, but the exception. I know and have known several members of the Geek Squad team and would consider them to be absolutely trustworthy as individuals. This article is intended to cover the story from both sides of the issue, and as such we’ve put the call out on Google+ to get the opinions and experiences from customers and employees.
An Entire Team’s Plot to Steal Porn from Jasmine Grey’s Computer
Just Days Before She Died in a Car Accident
Jasmine Grey, an actress in the adult industry, came into Geek Squad to have her computer serviced. Her complaint was that her computer would lock up when her webcam turned on, which was a common issue of the time (early 2000s) and something a Geek Squad member should have been able to fix relatively quickly. An agreement was made to update the computer to the latest version of XP, and service began.
During the initial line of questioning, Grey had declined to share the name of her website when asked by the technician. This raised a red flag, and members of that team (multiple, according to the employee’s report) used the Windows password written down by the customer to access a secured directory filled with her work. According to the report filed with the Consumerist, multiple DVDs were made of the incident.
If that isn’t bad enough, the manager (who was allegedly part of the scam) had a technician go out to her home after failing to repair her webcam during the first visit. The agent who came out was the same one who made the DVDs in the first place. After fixing the webcam in a matter of minutes, he went right to work sneaking through her network in search of more interesting tidbits.
On an unrelated note, Grey died shortly after. There’s no telling what kind of legal action might have taken place had this incident come to light beforehand.
Geek Squad Member Accused of Stealing Private Images from iPhone
Offers to Return Them if Customer Goes to His Home
This incident is just a few days old, and Best Buy has already acknowledged the issue, stating it has terminated the Geek Squad member for making personal transactions on company property. That doesn’t sound like the most severe issue here, but at least he won’t be responsible for repairing anyone’s equipment anymore.
The story goes that Sophia Ellison purchased a new iPhone and wanted her photos, contacts, etc. transferred from her old phone to her new one. The process is simple enough, but somewhere in the middle the Best Buy employee she was doing business with decided to make a personal transaction out of it. He offered to buy her old phone from her, and he did right there on the spot. According to Ellison, he promised on numerous occasions to wipe the data from the old phone.
When she returned for her new phone, only about half of her photos were successfully transferred to her new phone. The technician said a chunk of them were unrecoverable. Later, he called her at home and told her he recovered the old photos and would give them to her on a CD if he went by his home.
If this isn’t bad enough, some of the photos in question include her in compromising positions as well as her kids exiting the shower.
We took the question of this incident to the community and asked if anyone had any similar experiences (or lack thereof) from either side of the issue. The thread turned rather hostile toward the customer in this case:
John Livingston: If you have pictures you don’t want another person to see, why on EARTH would you just hand them over to some guy? The Best Buy employee should be fired, but this woman is an idiot and the judge should laugh her out of court.
Hector DeJesus: Aside from this woman being technically incompetent, she also displayed a lack of common sense by even agreeing to such a shady deal.
Jon Dye: Well, I do have a lack of respect for people who don’t take steps to protect their own privacy.
Still, there were some supportive statements made indicating that the representative certainly crossed a line.
Michele Price: What happened here went WAY beyond a service agreement; this guy made it very personal, like an assault.
Anthony Garrett (a former Geek Squad employee): I could say a lot about what’s wrong with this story, but the fact is that the employee was wrong and this reflects on the company. All of this should have been done in the mobile department and, in regards to her data backup, the rep should also have referred her to BBYM because we have devices for that.
Consumerist Sting Revealed Geek Squad Member Stealing Porn on Video
What Are the Chances?
When the Consumerist launched its Geek Squad sting in 2007, it couldn’t have asked for more damning evidence. A computer running screen capturing software, featuring a photo of three beautiful women in the background, caught a Geek Squad technician copying racy photos from the hard drive to his own personal flash drive. The Consumerist refused to tell the manager of the Best Buy branch which Geek Squad employee had been caught, insisting that better policies and closer observance should be held ahead of simply firing the one employee and hoping the issue goes away.
Is it the role of the manager to assume their employees are doing these things? A level of trust is required for any safe working environment, but when you’re trusting someone with a customer’s most private and personal data, some amount of vetting and training is required. In this case, an undercover investigation just happened to uncover exactly what customers fear the most.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have time to hide those things that you don’t want someone else to see before your computer bites the big one. Is this the customer’s fault? I don’t think so.
Geek Squad Employee Films Customer’s 22-Year-Old Daughter in the Shower
Imagine this: You’re at home getting ready to start your day and you notice a camera phone hidden behind the sink in your bathroom. Not only is it hidden there, but it’s recording video. This happened to the daughter of a Geek Squad customer, and the person responsible was quickly arrested for violation of privacy after they took the phone to the carrier to confirm what had happened.
This isn’t to say it’s common practice, but it should be a reminder that you should always be on your toes when someone is in your home. Just because someone is wearing a uniform or representing a trusted brand doesn’t mean that individual is doing things by the book. As far as the company goes, I’m more concerned about how it vets its employees than about this particular issue. It’s clearly a rogue agent with his own agenda in mind. I don’t believe this matter was covered up or otherwise minimized by Best Buy. If anything, I’d hope Best Buy learned from this and is a bit more cautious in its hiring and assignment practices.
Geek Squad Team Widely Misdiagnoses Issue in Undercover Investigations
These were two independent undercover investigations launched by local news agencies (FOX 12 out of Oregon and KSTP TV out of Minneapolis and St. Paul) testing local computer technicians for accuracy and integrity. Needless to say, these two investigations came out and Best Buy’s Geek Squad didn’t look too good. The problems Geek Squad couldn’t diagnose were quickly found and fixed (at no charge) at other stores.
Geek Squad isn’t the only large technical support business that has been under fire for bad diagnoses. Nerds on Site, an on-site computer repair service in which agents are more like freelance independent contractors than employees of a single brand, was also under fire in another independent investigation I found during research of this story. In almost every case I found, those small independent computer repair places were both more accurate and honest when dealing with customers.
Perhaps it’s a sign that Best Buy could do better in how it trains and manages its staff. Not every technician can be expected to be 100% accurate all the time, but it helps to have a second set of eyes look at an issue before giving the customer some bad news.
Man’s Personal Data Remained on Tablet After Employee Promised It Would Be Wiped
He Found out when the New Owner Contacted Him
One gentleman returned a personal tablet and was told by the clerk his data would be wiped before the unit was resold. A few months later, he received a call from the new owner of the device (who bought it from Woot). Best Buy states that it is not responsible for wiping data from drives, so this could fall under the realm of customer responsibility.
He stated he was informed there was a four-stage process of data removal that each device goes through prior to resale. Apparently, this promise was not kept.
Geek Squad Sent to Court over Technician Copying Nude Images from Computer and Putting on CD
This is perhaps one of the most startling confessions came during a lawsuit against Best Buy in 2008. William E. Giffels, a member of the Geek Squad, admitted to having taken nude images off of a customer’s hard drive using a flash drive he was issued. Those images were later copied (inadvertently) to CDs distributed to other members of the team.
The customer’s photos were taken as a gift for her partner on Valentine’s Day. She thought she had deleted them prior to Geek Squad taking a look at the computer, but apparently she hadn’t done a good enough job. The agent described seeing a few of them and wondering if there was anything more scandalous. So he did what any immoral pervert would do: He copied the entire folder to his flash drive.
Responding to repeated incidents of breech of privacy, Best Buy has incorporated new software that is intended to disallow the agent to look through files folder-by-folder. Unfortunately, these methods don’t always work as agents find reasons to look through folders individually, according to another confession from a former Geek Squad employee.
Stories from the Community
When we asked the community to share their stories and experiences, we received a surprising number of responses from both sides of the issue. Former Geek Squad employees explained what happened, and how it’s not uncommon for integrity to come into question with any tech repair service. Others (as noted earlier) believe that the victims are to blame for leaving their personal files on the computers in the first place. No matter what you believe, there’s a lesson to be learned here.
Hector DeJesus: I can share a personal story. In 1997, I brought an older HP desktop into the Geek Squad for a power supply issue. It was in my ‘beginning to learn about tech’ days and I had already taken the desktop apart and basically rebuilt it. I was familiar with most of the parts on it already. I knew what the issue was, but didn’t trust myself enough to replace the power supply by myself, so I decided to go to the ‘experts.’
They called me and told me that it had a bad hard drive and motherboard and needed to be replaced. I already knew this was bull, so I told them that I would be in to pick up the computer and to not do anything else. I got there to pick it up and, when I lifted it off the counter, I heard a loud crash like a part had fallen out. They take a look inside the case and the hard drive was literally at the bottom of the case, just hanging there. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that this wasn’t even the same hard drive!
After 30 minutes of arguing, they finally ‘found’ my hard drive in the back on their shop… I’m pretty sure that they didn’t think I’d notice since I was ‘too dumb’ to replace a power supply. The point is, if they would’ve installed my hard drive correctly, I probably never would’ve checked and they’d have my entire hard drive and all of its contents. By the way, my hard drive was reformatted to probably cover their tracks.
To answer your question, I feel like these are widespread issues from hacks on the team who think that people are dumb and they won’t get caught. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that everyone who works at Geek Squad is a ‘hack.’ In fact, I’m from Minneapolis where the Geek Squad got its start on Washington Avenue. It was viewed at that time as the “expert” in its field. When Best Buy bought it out, it tried to expand and had no way to control who was working behind the counters. So you’ve got a bunch of part-time Best Buy employees with some technical knowledge making $10-$12 an hour who couldn’t care less about customer privacy. Just my two cents.
Anthony Garrett: I used to work for Best Buy and it got crazy busy at times, so maybe not everything was checked. Personal info should be protected by the user first, above all, and the rest boils down to integrity. We never had issues at our store like this, but companies that aren’t treating their employees fairly are more likely to experience this sort of trouble.
Jessica Matthews: I bought an open box laptop from Best Buy two or three years ago. It still had all of someone else’s data on the device, accounts were still set up (without passwords on them), programs installed, etc. Luckily it was sold to me, because I quickly shut down the laptop and reformatted.
Jacob Beach: I purchased an open box Google TV about a month ago from Best Buy and it was still loaded with someone’s Google account.
Not every Geek Squad employee is bad. In fact, with tens of thousands of Geeks out there working on a dozen or more cases every day, it could be argued that these isolated incidents speak more to the character of the individual technicians than the culture of a corporation. Best Buy is a multinational corporation like any other. What matters to it is the bottom line, and when customers start making their feelings known with their pocket books, that’s when you’ll see big changes in how the company handles matters. Until then, it’s never a bad idea to be a little more cautious when handing your private data to a stranger, regardless of what uniform they may (or may not) wear.