Strange things can happen when you call tech support.
But perhaps not quite as strange as what allegedly happened to Tara Fitzgerald. According to News10 in Sacramento, Calif., Fitzgerald wanted to send some pictures of herself to her boyfriend, but she couldn't find them on her Dell computer.
Her urgent need to find these pictures drove her, quite naturally, to call Dell tech support. Her call was answered, she said, by a gentleman in Mumbai, India, named Riyaz Shaikh.
Shaikh, who, by the time you finish this tale, might not turn out to be a gentleman, after all, offered to remotely access her computer so that he could find the pictures for her. Fitzgerald said she watched him as he located her snapshots.
It was another fine day in the helpful history of tech support. However, this success was ruined somewhat, when Fitzgerald allegedly received an e-mail from an unidentified source telling her that her pictures were now freely available for anyone to see on the Web. They were on a site called "bitchtara."
Perhaps I omitted to mention that many of these pictures depicted Fitzgerald in the nude. And the Web site, as well as clearly violating her privacy, unfortunately offered lewd descriptions of her proclivities that were not in line with reality.
When Fitzgerald contacted Shaikh again, he suggested that it was, indeed, her boyfriend who had created the site, and he allegedly offered to help take it down. He needed, though, a laptop on which he could work on this vexing problem from home, she said. So--and this is a very painful part of the story--she shipped him one.
"My conscience is talking to me, saying, 'Tara, don't send this. Are you crazy?' I sent it anyway," she told News10. This part of the tale occurred in January 2009. This is particularly notable, given that the site featuring her pictures was still active, News10 reported, as of last Wednesday.
Indeed, Fitzgerald claimed that her repeated attempts to solve this problem through official channels, both through Dell and the police, were entirely unsuccessful. It was only by turning to the media, she said, that she managed to finally get Dell's attention.
In the intervening period between sending the computer to India and this week, Fitzgerald discovered that Shaikh had allegedly used her credit card details to spend $802 on a computer and router for a woman in Tennessee.
Finding no way to reverse the alleged evildoings, Fitzgerald said she maintained contact with Shaikh through his personal e-mail account and his official Dell account. As late as this week, she said, he was still offering to pay for the charges and, she believed, still working for Dell.
However, once News10 contacted Dell, it received the following reply: "We investigated the issue, which involved a technical representative at one of Dell's vendors. We contacted the vendor about the allegation and can confirm that the representative no longer handles Dell calls. We've been in contact with Ms. Fitzgerald regarding this issue and continue to investigate her claims to best assist in a resolution."
One can, of course, accuse Fitzgerald of some considerable naivete in this matter. She had to break the whole story this week to her 14-year-old daughter. However, it seems that if her allegations are, indeed, substantiated by the facts that News10 says it has at its disposal, she might deserve some considerable restitution from Dell itself.
Tech support is a powerful position. It does give those occasionally supercilious anonymous voices at the end of a telephone, whether in India or elsewhere, peculiar access to people's inner workings.
Fitzgerald's accusations suggest that the inner workings of one or two people in tech support might deserve closer examination too.