Not too long ago, I encountered a printer problem. That is to say, I was trying to print something and my printer all but told me that it had decided to take on a new career and would not be performing printing services anymore. Or at least it didn’t think it would any time soon. Kind of a bummer, considering I’d gone through the frustrating process of setting it up only a week or so before.
With that in mind, I decided I would fix the problem then and there. No waiting around and hoping things would get better or the printer would change its mind on its own and come back from sipping martinis in Punta Cana. Me taking action and being assertive. And to do that, I needed to convince the printer that being a printer is what it was meant to be—similar to somebody convincing a struggling professional athlete or artist or chef or rock skipper that that is what they were meant to be. Always has been. Now it just needs to believe in itself. But, after a long distance call to the easternmost portion of the Dominican Republic, I could see my words were having no impact on the printers crippling self doubt. So I took matters into my own hands.
I began, of course, with Google. I typed in some broad definition of the problem and the brand of my printer, and was able to find some common themes pretty quickly. After clicking around on a number of different links that didn’t quite pinpoint my problem, I found myself halfway down a Yahoo Answers forum. Which was perhaps the first of many red flags I would encounter, but I’ve found useful information there before so I didn’t think too much about it. And, as luck would have it, some kind Yahoo Answers person was providing a link to “Tech Support”. It was even accompanied by some reassuring words to the friendliness and competence of the technicians, as well as eleven thumbs up to only one thumbs down. It seemed legitimate.
The link took me to a website that looked professional enough; the brand name of my printer was in the URL. There was also a giant, flashing phone number at the bottom of the page. Needless to say, I called that number.
It was a decision that was totally out of character for me. I’m not usually one to take action like this. I’m the guy that prefers to let the problem marinate a good while. For example, in college, I waited almost an entire summer before checking my spring grades one semester because I didn’t want the results to ruin my time off. (A week before fall classes began, I conceded, feeling that the time was appropriate, and found the results to be better than expected; something that only happened because I waited until I was ready. If I would have checked the day after classes ended, my grades would have of course been drastically worse, because that’s how things work.) But, for whatever reason, today was the day that was all going to change. I was going to be more decisive and stuff. No over thinking. A step in the right direction.
On the other end of the phone was a man with an Indian accent. He was nice enough, and seemed interested in helping me solve my problem. So when he asked me to use software that would allow him access to my desktop, it was an easy decision: yeah, one second. Sure, his suggestions—potential solutions—had all been rather vague, and could probably be applied to any type of problem you had, like how can one make the color blue using only the condiments in his refrigerator. And sure, he hadn’t so much as given me one real credential. But by golly I was taking action, dammit!
A few downloads later and a foreign mouse was zipping around my desktop. He clicked around rather aimlessly for a while before clicking on something that pulled up some sort of code. It was here that he was able to identify the problem. “Hackers,” he said, highlighting two lines of code that apparently showed two unauthorized users accessing my wifi. This was the source of my printer’s “communication error”.
I had grown increasingly skeptical ever since allowing him access to my desktop. It all just felt, well, kind of like I was involved in a big scam and people somewhere were probably pointing fingers and laughing at me. But, there was this code. And he had highlighted an area that didn’t totally seem to contradict what he was saying. So I went one step further. “What do you suggest?” I asked. A question he gladly answered. Yes, he could fix the problem. However, he would need 20 to 30 minutes of complete and undisturbed access to my desktop.
My heart sank. For so long I didn’t want to believe it. Not him. Not here. Not now. We haven’t even discussed our dreams yet. Even so, I could no longer deny the obvious: I was being scammed.
My attitude changed immediately. We were no longer guys who were probably going to grab a beer later. We were now enemies. As such, I got politely aggressive. I told him this all sounded good and well, but it was getting late and I had somewhere I needed to be. So if we could pick this up later in the day that would be great. He was reluctant to the plan, but I held firm and we soon said our goodbyes. Upon which, I deleted everything I had just downloaded from my computer, put it in the trash, beat it with a hammer, set it on fire, drove to the Atlantic, boated out a few miles, tied some rocks to it, and threw it into the ocean.
I felt sick to my stomach. Not to the extent of having your heart broken sick to your stomach, but probably to the extent of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and having your dog eat it, only to then find out it was actually the last pieces of bread in the entire apartment, sick to your stomach. Even after my recent trip to the Atlantic, I was still unconvinced about what this strange man may or may not have access to on my computer. I desperately wanted somebody to tell me everything was alright. So I asked both my fiance and twin brother, both of whom are infinitely more computer/tech savvy than I, if they knew anything about scanning for computer viruses, and they both said roughly the same thing: I was probably fine, but if I was really concerned about it I should take it to a computer store.
I didn’t really want to do this. I wasn’t embarrassed to tell a computer professional what I had just done—I’d tell him every little detail of what had just happened, from our blossoming friendship to him ripping my heart out—I just didn’t really want to make the drive. So I sat in silence and stewed about it for the next hour or so, contemplating the worst. Surely by now this guy, this masked man, has access to all my pertinent information and is buying a very heavily used Razor scooter and a bunch of obscure magazine subscriptions with my life savings. How could I have been so gullible? How could I have made such a dumb mistake?
Then, a little while later, I realized something and felt less bad: we all do dumb stuff every once in a while. Sure, some of us, myself included, do more than others—but we’re all guilty of it. And that’s okay. It’s part of life. All we can do is try our best and attempt to limit how many dumb mistakes we make. Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself, dammit!
[Authors note: some six hours later, after not so much as touching a single button on the printer, it printed off some five copies of the page I had been trying to print. I guess my words did have an impact. That, or Punta Cana wasn’t what the printer thought it would be.]