Things You Should Keep In Mind Before Taking Your Laptop Or Smartphone To Tech Support

Christian Cawley 07-09-2012

Things You Should Keep In Mind Before Taking Your Laptop Or Smartphone To Tech Support muo techmadness introA few years ago I was gainfully employed by a local government service in a tech support capacity, providing telephone and on-the-spot assistance to a variety of computing and mobile issues.


You would not believe the things I saw.

Given that some of these employees were among the most intelligent people in the country, the way in which they misused their devices was astonishing, from general irresponsible behaviour concerning the devices (drops, scratches, broken screens, etc.) to leaving material saved or even open on the desktop that you certainly wouldn’t show to your grandmother.

As for the confidential information that sat open an ALT+TAB away…

You see, if you have a problem with your laptop or phone, before you take it back to the shop, consult an Apple “Genius” or package the thing up and send it back with an RMA code, there are a few things that you should consider…

Do You Know the Technician?

First things first – are you sending your phone or laptop to someone that you know? More specifically, is this someone that you have known for a while and do you trust them?


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It is easy to gain trust when working as a support technician – all you need to do is display expertise and show that you understand the issue and how to resolve it and the customer will trust you to get their device working again.

When trust can be gained this easily, it is important that you be sure that the device and data that you’re handing over will be treated with respect, sensitivity and confidentially.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Back in 2010 an American woman received remote tech support from a Dell employee, who removed extremely personal images from her laptop for his own use. It didn’t end well.


Basically, anyone with some knowledge of computers can get a job working in tech support. They could be right out of prison or right out of college – either way, just because they know what they’re talking about doesn’t mean you should trust them. Instead, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable firm, and wherever possible, speak to them face to face rather than remotely.

Tidy Things Up!

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While it is important that you shouldn’t make any changes to the software and hardware configuration on your laptop or phone when sending it to a tech support agent – the first thing they would do is attempt to recreate your issue – you should make sure that there are no easily accessible personal files.

This might mean deleting files, perhaps using password protect tools and generally keeping data that doesn’t need to be seen away from the eyes of your tech support guy. You might save the data to a writable DVD, USB drive or some other external storage medium.


What you certainly shouldn’t do is leave important files – confidential information, photos, and commercially sensitive data – on the desktop or anywhere else that tech support will need to access.

Don’t Store Adult Photographs On Your Laptop, Phone or Tablet!

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Having a personal camera that takes great quality photos that don’t require developing at the local chemists has been a great addition to smartphone technology. But now that you can share your photos with a special someone, that doesn’t mean that you should – and it certainly isn’t a reason to leave those photos “lying around” on your iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone.

Whether these images have been snapped by you or saved from the web, they really don’t need to be present when the device is given an RMA and sent back to the manufacturer or retailer. Similarly, sensitive personal data should be removed from your phone before shipping – a full factory reset is probably the best way of dealing with this.


(On a related note, observe that cloud storage doesn’t usually permit the uploading of adult material, so any images that you have snapped or downloaded to a cloud-synced directory might cause you to lose access to that storage – not something you want to happen when you’ve already lost access to a laptop or smartphone usually used to access that same cloud drive).

Remove Unsuitable/Unapproved Software

The same goes for software. Whether we’re talking mobile apps or computer applications, you should check what you have installed and make sure it doesn’t breach any terms of use. For instance, if your smartphone is leased from your employer, there may be a limit to the types of app that you have installed; a no games policy is common.

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Similarly, games and unlicensed applications shouldn’t be installed on a work laptop, just as software with a free home license should be removed prior to sending the device to tech support. It might just be the case, of course, that this unsuitable or unapproved software is the cause of whatever problems you’re facing.

If this is the case then it’s down to you to take the rap – do you remove it and claim ignorance (although registry clues might give the game away) or do you leave it installed and hope for the best?


If you have got your head screwed on properly and have been brought up with a good dose of common sense, none of the above should come as any surprise to you.

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Unfortunately, there are many people for whom technology represents the unknown, and when they are asked to deal with it they fail to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Worse still, this can also happen to people who should know better, such as other tech support agents!

Ultimately, remember that if you’re going to store personal information on your smartphone or laptop, any technician employed to deal with problems with the device will be likely to view it, either by accident or as part of their diagnosis and repair. Remember also that you need to make the tech support guy’s job as easy as possible so that your hardware will come back quickly…

Image Credit: Grumpy Customer Service via Shutterstock |Man with Headset via Shutterstock | Call center agent with headset via Shutterstock |  Voyeurism or pornography via Shutterstock | Stack of CD-ROMS via Shutterstock 

Related topics: Online Privacy, Tech Support.

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  1. Walter L.
    June 24, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Searched for similar articles on Google and seems like no one mentioned WiFi passwords... It seems that these can be retrieved easily by going to Network Settings and check "Show Characters". Now, the technician knows your address (from the service ticket), your SSID, and your WiFi key... The key may also be added to the list for dictionary attacks as well since many people probably use same key for passwords as well.

  2. Hoku Sarroca
    November 6, 2012 at 4:20 am

    all fantastic information , but what if you can't even get your laptop to load up to even do this before you take it in.

    • Christian Cawley
      November 6, 2012 at 8:25 am

      Ideally, you should be aware of the various possibilities and potential for embarrassment and act accordingly before your computer breaks...

  3. lance burn
    October 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    can anyone tell me how to take the keys off my acer aspire clean them and put them back as I spilled lemon t on it months ago and am sick of the touch screen keys, thanks

  4. scott boyer
    October 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I did contact Dell support for a laptop problem. He took over my computer and I watch what he was doing. After it looked like he might have fixed the problem he whent into my files and told me I had allot of junk files. He then told me I need to purchase software to clean up the problem. I told him no and the call was ended. He never did fix the problem I was haveing. After doing some maintanance tools I was able to fix the problem. So before you call if you can fix it yourself.

  5. Technical Support
    September 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Great article.....there are many online tech support websites that show you a full log of what they are doing on your PC so you can see if they are copying files inappropriately. Make sure you ask them if their remote control software offers this logging functionality.

  6. Sameer N
    September 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    If the issue with laptop is it not powering up/booting up, then there is no way you can erase the data before sending it to the technician.

  7. Edward Bellair
    September 11, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    All good advice. People really need to be reminded of this stuff?

  8. fatihamzah
    September 11, 2012 at 3:25 am

    Clean history, lock secret folder, save backup, then go to the tech support if you cant fix the problem

  9. AP
    September 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Great deal of commonsense.

  10. Ashwin Ramesh
    September 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing !

  11. Riya Banerjee
    September 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Will keep in mind.

  12. Ibrahim Nadir
    September 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    huh... i hv seen these people doing such stupid things... God save us!

  13. Ahmed Khalil
    September 8, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Ok better to say. format your PC before send it for repair

  14. Rich Mc.
    September 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Funny story.....A friend of mine actually took his laptop to have it fixed and did not erase or encrypt anything and two days later had the police at his house because of some questionable porn........ Never ever give your privacy away....

  15. Darren Reynolds
    September 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Good article, such a simple mistake to make leaving a password protected item enabled when sending a computer for repair. What I always have done is create an Engineer account so that they can use that ...

  16. Swaggrous Emeks
    September 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    nice article Christian

  17. Frank Atkinson
    September 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Interesting, a suggestion not to upload adult photos to the cloud.. I thought the "cloud" provided a private, "encrypted" storage area, how can they tell they are adult photos if they can't see them ?

  18. Kavin Jan Abendan
    September 8, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Recuva will allow you to recover any deleted file.

    • Jason Ong
      September 9, 2012 at 2:38 am

      a lot of the time hold shift and deleting works, I've accidentally deleted some of my files this way and couldn't recover them with Recuva, Advanced SystemCare, Glary Utilities and WinUtilities.
      You can use these programs to delete files permanent Eraser, SDelete, CCleaner, Advanced SystemCare, Glary Utilities, WinUtilities... And then you'll never be able to recover them because these programs will delete them and then rewrite them many times

  19. lance burn
    September 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I just try myself and so far so good, I even spilt lemon tea on me laptop and fixed it

  20. Hoku Sarroca
    September 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    totally agree! I usually do a back up on my external hd then remove all info and personal photos b4 I would send it out...

  21. TechnologyTwist
    September 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    horrible, thanks for info, i will takecare about these things..

  22. GrrGrrr
    September 8, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    I agree with you.
    One more thing, better to create a separate account with only user privilege for them, not to allow them install any software/make changes to system.

    • Daniel Escasa
      September 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Yup. My PC and my laptop both have guest accounts. I'd put one on my phone if I had the space :) But then if I'm taking the phone to the service center, I'd probly just remove the SD card.

      • liz
        August 31, 2016 at 12:17 pm

        How do you create a guest account?

        • Anonymous
          September 1, 2016 at 3:29 am

          On Windows, I use the “Classic” Control Panel interface. One of the icons there is User Accounts, and one of the items off that icon has something to do with creating a Guest account.

          You may also be able to do it with a Mac, although I wouldn't know exactly how. Guessing it'd be off the Settings menu, and there may be something there about User Accounts. Same with GNU/Linux

  23. Rigoberto Garcia
    September 8, 2012 at 3:48 am

    Excelent article Christian, Thanks...

    • TonyB
      September 8, 2012 at 10:48 am

      Good article but misses a key point in that often people send IT kit for repair because it no longer functions. Therefore there's no opportunity to tidy up and secure your data.

      The only option is to adopt safe practices at all times in the expectation that your equipment will fail at some point.

      • Christian Cawley
        September 8, 2012 at 5:35 pm

        It misses no such point. You'll find that point made in the conclusion, should you care to read it :)

  24. xbalesx
    September 8, 2012 at 2:57 am

    All great info...check all your personal data into a separate storage hotel b4 sending or taking it in for tech support. We had some passwords that were compromised when we sent my wife's laptop in. Of course, they were tracked and secured and the female tech that was handling it (HP tech) was fired and found guilty. 250 hours community service...but still, there are dishonest people out there so bcareful.

  25. Frederick Doe
    September 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Don't forget to log out of any password managers. You should probably delete their caches too.

    • Christian Cawley
      September 8, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Excellent tip Frederick, thanks!