What Is an 85-year Old to Do With $4,500 Worth of Computer Equipment?

Help PC says that it issued a 7,000 shekel credit to a customer after she complained that she didn't need the items she purchased.

Illustration: An elderly woman holds an iPad.
Bloomberg

Over the past two years, Rina Miron, 85, has had a subscription to Help PC, which runs a support center for home computer users. Two months ago, her daughter Vered Avidan glanced at a receipt her mother had received from Help PC for the 36 shekels-a-month (around $9) service. To her surprise, a visit by a technician to Miron’s home some months earlier had resulted in a bill for 13,000 shekels (almost $3,500).

Miron had been referred to Help PC by her internet service provider, 012 Smile (today a Partner Communications company.) She was offered remote access support and an annual home visit by a technician.

“My mother’s control of her computer is confined to receiving mails and sending them and sometimes she types a little in Word," says Avidan. "She can’t learn more than that at her age.”

The technician's visit was due to a problem with Miron's computer, which was less than two years old. He told her that “alien elements” had taken control of it and offered to sell her a new one for 2,780 shekels. To that, it turned out, the vendor added an external hard drive, not one but two cloud backup mechanisms (50 Gb and 70 Gb), the Microsoft Office suite and anti-virus programs. Altogether, the bill for the new computer that Miron didn’t need came to 13,361 shekels.

The company acknowledges a transaction for 12,800 shekels, noting that Miron had bought a tablet computer for 470 shekels the previous year.

When Miron’s son (Avidan’s brother) visited her, he noticed that the external hard drive wasn’t even connected to the system. He also realized that his mother had no idea what she had been sold. She didn’t know how to use it and didn’t need most of the extras she had been sold, says Avidan, who complained to the Ministry of Economy and Trade.

Targeting the old and vague

Golden agers can be a convenient target market for aggressive marketers who exploit their isolation and ignorance. For that very reason, a legislative amendment to the Consumer Protection Law was passed four months ago, to protect vulnerable groups such as the elderly, immigrants and the mentally or physically impaired, enabling them to void a transaction up to four months after entering into it, rather than the 14 days previously allowed.

Despite the amendment and Avidan’s many (unanswered) letters to Help PC, the company only responded after she had complained to the ministry. Even then, it only agreed to return 2,265 shekels to her, says Avidan. The company says it returned 7,000 shekels.

It seems that Miron and her children aren’t the only ones disenchanted with Help PC. Its Facebook page brims with complaints by consumers.

Two weeks ago, a client named Haim wrote on the Facebook page “Caution!!! They came to my father-in-law, an old man who doesn’t understand computers. Because his computer was low, the technician ‘Yosef’ from Jerusalem claimed that the material needed to be transferred to another, new computer. He took the old computer with him on November 3, 2016 and promised that the new computer with the material from the old one inside would be sent within three business days. In practice, two weeks later, they hung up the phone on us and ignored us. Margalit from the sales department transfers [the call] from sales to customer service and there they leave you on hold for half-an-hour.”

Last week, another customer, Michal,complained that she had been waiting for her computer to be fixed for three weeks, and when she inquired, received vapid answers like “Somebody will get back to you within two days.” Not that they did. “Unprofessional,” she sums up.

‘She sounded young’

Help PC responded that Miron joined its program at the start of 2015, receiving support and a warranty covering a computer supplied by it.

From the time she joined until today, says Help PC, “Miron called the support center 21 times, asking for help and assistance, including guidance on how to use the computer, how to fix problems such as the computer operating slowly, software programs that wouldn’t open, computer not responding and so on. Since Miron is old and has difficulty operating various computer applications, the support calls with her are very long and, not rarely, involve a technical support staffer accessing her computer remotely. Indeed, through this period, Miron acquired various products including a backup drive, backup in the cloud, a computer, Office, anti-virus and other products at a cost of 12,800 shekels.

“On October 20, 2016, her son contacted us, complaining that his mother had bought products she didn’t need. Following his letter, on November 29, we credited her for the products that he said she did not need to the amount of 7,000 shekels.”

Help PC adds that it only learned of Miron’s age after her son got in touch: “Listening to the tapes of the calls with her, she sounds lucid and much younger than her 85 years,” the company stated. “It is important to note that when a customer contacts us, we have no way of knowing how old he is or any other biographical information.”

012 commented that it has no commercial relationship with Help PC today. When it referred customers to the company in previous years, no compensation was involved.