Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Microsoft Tech Support Fraud

Microsoft: Committing Consumer Fraud 24/7

It's not funny because it's true.
The Bear spent his New Year's Day with Microsoft's so-called technical support. Seven hours. This is not the only all-day session. This is no accident. (A proposition whose importance you will see in a moment.) Poor service is a foreseeable result of a number of decisions Microsoft has made based on consciously trading a certain amount of customer ill will in return for maximizing profits.

However, Microsoft crosses the line from "poor technical support" to "no technical support," when the term "technical support" ceases to retain any reasonable meaning at all. In a word, Microsoft is committing consumer fraud. In a few more words, it is an on-going criminal operation. Back to a word: RICO.

How Microsoft Commits Consumer Fraud

Time for DOJ vs. Microsoft
Round 2: this time it's RICO
First, the Bear is not going to rant about shoddy products or unworkable operating systems. The Bear likes the Microsoft products he uses, which include a Surface 4 running on Windows 10, the Pen, the Dial and even Invoke. You might even say he's a bit of a fan. The Bear doesn't expect everything to be perfect all the time.

His complaint begins when something goes wrong and he must seek technical support.

The Bear has paid $149 for a "Complete" plan on his Surface 4 that covers technical support (as well as accidental damage). There is a similar "Assure" plan that covers technical support only, for about the same price. (By the way, do not expect technical support agents to know you have this, or even to know what "Complete" is.)

When the Bear has paid Microsoft for a technical support plan and the evidence is clear Microsoft never had any intention of holding up their end of the bargain, the Bear recognizes that as garden variety consumer fraud. This is not hard.

Home Improvement Fraud Example

Let's start with an easy-to-understand example. The Bear used to be Assistant Illinois Attorney General. Home repair scams were what we usually saw. Contractors would not do the work, or not finish the work, or finish the work to a criminally substandard degree. That's called consumer fraud.

Fraud requires an intent to take money from someone in return for a job you never intend to perform. A scam. What is clear is that Microsoft has decided to create a technical support program that it knows by its very nature is incapable of fulfilling the promises it makes consumers in return for their money.

Again, the Bear alleges that Microsoft has deliberately crossed the line from providing poor technical support to providing something that cannot be called technical support in any meaningful sense of the term. In a word: fraud.

"My name is Milo B,, and I can definitely help you resolve your
issue, no worries."

Bear Technical Support Illustration

For example, some Bears might be hired by Microsoft as "Technical support Bears for All Your Computer Needs." In return for $75 a year, you could reach him by chat or talk to him on the phone. He would be quite pleasant, and assure you that, "Bear can definitely take care of your problems, no worries."

He would go down a checklist, asking you to do various things to help him "troubleshoot" your computer. With a combination of relentless politeness and interruptions in service that require providing the same information time and time again, you eventually settle for an incomplete resolution of your issue, or perhaps just give up. Maybe next time will be better. You don't really need a calendar on your computer, or whatever.

However, the more you consult with Bear Technical Support, you notice certain things.

Suspicions About Bear Technical Support

Scripting. Most Bears don't speak English well and don't know much about computers. As your Bear Technical Support experiences accumulate, you notice they're speaking from a script. "How is your day, today? I hope it is great. I can definitely help you with your issue, no worries." Their "troubleshooting" also proceeds the same way every time.

You even try to tell them their remote assistance program won't work because of a Windows problem they refuse to fix, and recommend Quick Assist. But it's easier to deflect a Bear making a beeline for a female in heat than to separate a Tech Support Bear from his script.

Multitasking. There are long absences while the Bear "helps other customers." He has thousands, you know, and he's only one or two Bears. (Why in the world did anyone think that could ever work? you wonder.) Sometimes he must "talk to his supervisor." When he does get back to you, he has naturally forgotten what you called about and politely asks you to explain everything again from the very beginning.

At first, you figure you caught the Bear on a bad day. You like to give Bears the benefit of the doubt. He's just an overworked Bear, probably not getting paid very well.

Interruptions and Other Ways Your Time is Wasted. Of course, starting from square one over and over frustrates and wearies you. Hours pass - that's no exaggeration. Most of it is sheer wasted time that is not contributing to the resolution of your issue. Usually, your chat sessions get interrupted and phone calls get dropped. When you finally manage to get reconnected, it is with a different polite Bear. (Or the same Bear with a different improbable pseudonym.) He asks you to wait while he reviews the notes left by the previous Bear.

No Notes Kept on Your Issue. When he rejoins you, he starts the same questions all over again, because, apparently, Bears don't really keep notes about your case, and you don't want to know what the Bear is doing during that fifteen minutes he's supposedly reading notes.

No Way Out. You might ask to have your issue escalated. Your request is politely, but firmly deflected. The best you can hope for is a transfer to the other, equally incompetent Bear. You night ask for a trouble ticket number. However, that request will also be ignored until a time of the Bear's choosing, i.e. not before you are "accidentally" disconnected.

You notice that the system was apparently designed by Temple Grandin to send you like a steer through the chute to the slaughterhouse floor. Technical Support Bears control the whole process and there is no way out for you. No escalation, no diversion, no complaint department. One time you got to Customer Service, who was very polite, and promised to transfer you to 'Surface Next Level Support."

Instead you got a robot asking questions about your Xbox. The funny thing is, this always happens when someone says they're going to transfer you to Surface Support. You even tell them, "I know you're going to transfer me to Xbox support," but they always say, "Oh, no, sir, I would never do that. I can assure you most faithfully an expeditious progress to Surface Next Level Support."

And then they send you to Xbox support.

Bounce Pass between Bears. And speaking of Surface Support, a game the two Technical Support Bears enjoy playing is spending an hour with you then saying, "Oh, this isn't really a Surface problem. I need to send you to Windows Support." Eventually Windows support will say (you've guessed it), "This isn't a Windows problem. I need to send you to Surface support."

If you get Customer Support, she'll very politely send you back to Xbox support.

Bears Win. Eventually you give up. You're having angina and/or a psychotic break. It's just not worth it.

Suspicions Deepen about Bear Tech Support 

When you recover, you start to get suspicious. What the Hell do Bears know about computers, anyway? Their whole system is obviously run on a shoestring. They're spread over far too many customers at any one time, you can barely understand their grunts and snuffles, and, besides, they don't seem to know very much about computers in the first place.

For your $75 dollars a year, sure, you get to talk to a "Technical Support Bear," but it seldom does you any good. How could it? It isn't designed to deliver technical support at all. It's obviously designed to part you from $75 and give you the feeling of technical support without any substance.

Worse, the inherent inefficiencies seemed deliberately designed to discourage you and just make you go away. You feel like complaining, but the Bear Technical Support Telephone Number wisely gives you only a very limited automated menu that does not have a complaint department. (Phone menu by Temple Grandin.)

Microsoft Protection Money

But it does have one curious thing. There is, as it turns out, one real human being who is standing by, just waiting, eager to talk with you. No wait for this guy. You see, when you dialed Bear Technical Support, the robot told you that wait times were greater than 30 minutes. (They always are.) However, the robot slyly suggests there is another way.

That's when you remember how you got suckered into this whole Bear Technical Support scam to begin with. The robot asked you if you wanted to talk to someone about a for-pay option, implying you might not have to wait around for 30 minutes with the unwashed Microsoft-using masses.

Now give that a moment to sink in. 

The frustration of the consumer is created by Microsoft then leveraged to take another $149 from his pocket. The customer is immediately transferred to a salesman, who will try to sell him a support plan.

The joke is, it didn't do any good. You still got stuck with the same stupid Bears. But, at the time, it sounded like a pretty good deal.

The conclusion is inescapable. You've been scammed.

Sure, it's great for Microsoft, who owns Bear Technical Support. They throw their staff of three or four Bears a few spoiled salmon every week and pocket $74 profit per customer. They know Bears can't really help you. They know what they're selling isn't really technical support. It isn't meant to be. It's meant to simulate technical support, not provide it. Customer ill will is a price they're willing to pay, because, to put it simply, it doesn't affect their bottom line as much as setting up a real technical support system would.

And, you, my friend, are a victim of consumer fraud. It's not really the fault of the Bears. It's the fault of Microsoft, who exploit the poor Bears and are laughing all the way to the bank - at both you and the Bears.

The Bear is Serious: This Is Consumer Fraud

The Bear has no issue with anyone making money. He also realizes that bad Microsoft tech support is a unfunny joke: the hard-to-understand chap in Bangalore calling himself "Percy R." It's just something we all have to put up with if we use Microsoft products. The Bear would never call inefficient or even surly technical support consumer fraud.

He is, after all, a lawyer, although no longer practicing.

Where Microsoft crossed the line between being unconcerned about customer relations to criminal activity is when it decided to charge money for technical support it knows without doubt it cannot deliver in any meaningful sense of the word.

It would be like a home repair guy you hire to put on a new roof. He uses the cheapest child labor he can find, gives them the wrong tools, and every decision is driven by maximizing his profit. He knew going in that it would be impossible to provide you with a real roof given the tools, labor and corner-cutting he brought to your job. Three years later, the job is done, but it leaks. You try to complain, but you can never get hold of him.

Yeah, you get a new roof, sort of, with much delay and frustration, and it leaks.

You report it as a home repair scam and the repairman says, "Look, I was paid for a roof, and there's a roof. So what if it leaks? Life ain't perfect. Put some pans on the floor to catch the leaks."

Bear promises you neither the Attorney General nor the judge would be impressed. The only reason Microsoft gets away with it is the company is too big and the facts are a little fuzzier than shingles and nails.

RICO: It Wouldn't Be the First Time DOJ Took a Swipe at Microsoft

When an organization commits on-going criminal activity, it is subject to federal prosecution under RICO. Before you laugh, the Bear remembers when federal prosecutors all had to use Word Perfect because the Department of Justice was suing Microsoft for monopolistic practices. United States vs. Microsoft, 253 F.3d 34 (D.C. Circuit, 2001). So it's not like DOJ has not had to swat Microsoft down in the past.

Will DOJ prosecute Microsoft for their tech support scam? No. Will Microsoft ever be motivated to provide legitimate technical support? No. For nearly all of us, the only choices in operating systems are Microsoft's Windows or Apple's OS X. (Spare Bear the suggestion that everyone build their own computers out of toothpicks and use Linux.)

What can customers do to mitigate deliberately bad Microsoft Technical Support? Bear doesn't know. If you can persuade an incompetent tech support agent to give you a lateral hand-off to someone else, you might get lucky. (Sorry to say, but judicious use of profanity might accelerate that when other options are exhausted. It truly is the international language.) In general, know what games they're playing, as described above, and just keep churning through agents until you find someone who can help you. Unfortunately, that involves a huge waste of time.

The Bear doesn't know. He's not giving up, though.

But if you get Khryzz L. just ditch the session and draw the next card. He's the worst.


  1. Great Bear,

    Send Owl an email message with the problem. Owl might be able to use enterprise bear support. Massively different set of "bears".

    1. Indeed. Corporate customers can get access to *actual* tech support from Microsoft, not consumers.

  2. I linked to this as my response to their feedback memo.

  3. Last August, my wife attempted to pay our monthly cell phone bill to Family Mobile, Walmart's cell phone service that is actually part of T-Mobile. We have 5 people on our service plan. We were with them for seven years.

    She spent 6 hours TRYING to pay the bill! She eventually determined that ALL of the service people were MANAGERS. Whenever she requested to speak to a manager, she was assured that they were speaking to the manager. One time, when pressed to speak to someone higher than them, she was assured that there was NO ONE higher than them. "Are you the Owner?" "Yes."

    The next month, in September, it took 8 HOURS to pay the bill and at the end we could only confirm that the service for 4 people was complete. We had to call back the next day and pay for the 5th person. That took less than 5 minutes. This time I was home, it was a Saturday, so I got to participate too. I got to miss our planned fall weekend activities. I also got to speak to the Owner, twice!

    In October we switched carriers.

  4. Now the hack tool need you to complete several surveys or provides after which
    after that they'll switch you your Gold and Silver - a minimum of
    that is what they need you to believe!.

    1. Bear is already in their Inner Circle or whatever. What does a Bear have to do to get their attention, anyway? They probably have already flagged my account with a big red CRAZY in Hindi.

  5. Bear,

    I’m sorry to hear about your ‘technical support’ problems. I guess most of us have been there. I was around when they just started out and a certain large, multinational company hired the young Bill Gates and cohorts to write the OS for some of the first personal computers. There was no technical support. Those were the halcyon days compared to now. So I’ll just stick in my two cents here. I would suggest that you do a search for UBUNTU. This is a Linux based operating system. It’s FREE. Now before, Bear turns away and grunts because he thinks he has to build his own computer, let me explain that Linux based systems have come a long, long way. I have Ubuntu 16.04 running on an old Toshiba laptop. I think the current version is 17. While not as flashy as Windows, it does all the same things. There are word processors, spreadsheets, apps, games, etc. I use it for my physics calculations. There is a huge support community and any problem you have you can usually find an answer to by typing the query into a search engine. This is easier and much, much less frustrating than dealing with “John” from wherever. Just go over and take a peak. It’s worth the consideration. You can download it from their site and set it up. You can run it next to Windows or stand alone. I chose to wipe out Windows on the Toshiba and make it stand alone. I also have an HP Spectre which runs Windows 10 and I can tell you that the Toshiba with UBUNTU is a lot less frustrating. I HATE the Windows updates. It always seems that they were made “on the fly” with the attitude of “Oh, well, if we missed something this time we’ll get it with the next one.” This bluebird just wants Bear to nose around a bit in the UBUNTU meadow (or any alternative Linux environment). Disclaimer: I don’t know whether it could run on a Surface machine.

    1. Owl supports Ubuntu and has a system or two that is command line only. That said, if one is looking for a OS as a platform to run programs, Ubuntu/Liniux is not the choice due limited availability of programs.

      The real key though is choosing the proper tech for the job...so many many home end users have the wrong tech..from hardware to software. Most people don´t ask themselves the question ¨what do I want to do¨ and salesmen often don´t know their tech and are going for profit margin.

      A good case in point for that is the in house tech support / warranty up-sale. Almost always useless.

    2. I could use Apple. Either it or Windows 10 supports Word, Scrivener, and Photoshop, which I require. I prefer the form factor of the Surface, including the touch screen. Windows 10, however, seems to suffer from more just weird and/or intermittent problems. For all I know it's still just a fancier GUI still running on top of DOS.

      It's like Cortana. I got an Invoke for Christmas. I think the sound is noticeably better than Echo. It was simple to set it up to control the lights. Spotify is as good as Amazon Music. It will (unlike Echo) connect with Bluetooth to my Surface 4, although, weirdly, it usually takes more than one attempt. But sometimes, it just stops. No reason. And, of course, it doesn't have much in the way of skills, although most of them are pretty useless for Alexa.

      For all I know, Microsoft gives great technical support for people who have really basic problems stemming from a mere lack of user knowledge. And, I know there is effective tech support out there, because sometimes I have stumbled onto it. But the people MS really needs to keep happy is that small % of fans who enjoy their new hardware and will help shape opinion. They are the very people they are alienating most with their lousy tech support. They were willing to lose a fortune on their Surface line. It's still not exactly established. Windows 10 is the best Windows so far, and the Surface 4 is great, but how can I recommend anything Microsoft produces to my friends knowing one of the biggest corporations in the world has decided to flip off their customers with ineffective, third world "tech support?" Microsoft could afford to do it right, but somebody decided it wasn't worth it. I think they're going to be proved wrong in the long run.

    3. One of my friends is Apple tech support. He is American, works in America, and knows what he is doing.

      I only have Windows 10 because I game. If you do not game, I recommend Apple. If you are a super-nerd like me who doesn't mind not having access to certain games, use Linux.

    4. The touchscreen and tablet option make the Surface 4 my choice over my Apple MacBook. My in-house art department depends on a Pen with Photoshop. And while my iPad Mini is what I take when I leave my cave, I love snapping off the keyboard from the Surface and "quitting for the day." Then I can watch something, or play a game on a dandy ultra hi-rez tablet.

      I have decided there's a certain amount of fun I can have with my tech support experience without being a jerk to underpaid drones in the Indian subcontinent. I'm collecting some gems as I obsessively record all my chat sessions. There is a surprising amount of pathos, drama and comedy just waiting beneath the surface of tech support to be tapped.

    5. Why you gaming on Windows 10? I have a whole old computer just for MS Flight Simulator that will never, ever see an upgrade. It would destroy my entire bloated flight sim ecosystem.


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