8 Jul 2009 dwmw2   » (Master)

I'm accustomed to technical support being fairly incompetent and clueless, but Acer seem to have taken it to a new level. They have taken to telling direct lies and seem to be attempting to defraud their customers.

I don't think I'll ever be buying Acer hardware again.

I bought an Acer laptop a couple of months ago, through Misco. I phoned Misco and tried to get them to ship it to me without the preinstalled Windows Vista operating system. They said that it was not possible.

At that point I should have taken my business elsewhere, but this was quite a good deal — ISTR it was a return, or something like that, so it was quite cheap. So I ordered the laptop anyway, and then when it arrived I declined to accept the End User Licensing Agreement, installed Linux on it and contacted Acer for my refund as indicated.

Acer's first response was that they would be able to refund the £20.30 that Windows Vista was worth, but that they "will require a £51.99 payment to have the machine brought in to the repair centre so we may remove this for you. This will cover the courier and engineer's labour fee."

This seems to be an obvious scam to prevent customers from obtaining the refund to which they are entitled, and I didn't accept it. I wrote a letter to their head office, returning the Windows serial number sticker and giving photographic evidence that Linux had been installed on the system, wiping the old operating system. And demanding my refund within one month or court proceedings would be issued.

Acer responded to this, retracting the demand for a £51.99 payment but still claiming that the laptop had to be shipped back to them at my expense. They said that they needed to "action the following:

  1. Validate that the Operating System has been removed from the Hard Disk.
  2. Remove the Microsoft COA (Certificate Of Authenticity) label
  3. Verify your proof of purchase to ascertain that you are in the specified timeframe to refund this product.
  4. To verify if any back up recovery disks have been made and if so, recovered from you.
  5. A signed form from you, which may be given to Microsoft and which agrees to hold Acer harmelss from any claims by third parties in the event that you have produced any false information on the request."

I pointed out that it was not necessary for them to have the system shipped back to them to achieve their requirements. I offered them remote access to the system in order to verify that there was no trace of Windows left on the hard drive, and asked for a copy of the form they mentioned. I also gave them a copy of my proof of purchase, reminded them that I'd already sent back the sticker, and stated that I had made no backup copies.

At this point, they went silent and stopped responding to my email — even when I reminded them that the deadline was approaching and I was about to file the court claim for my refund. They did eventually start responding again after about two months, when I informed them that I had finally got round to filing the court case.

This did seem to get their attention, but they still claimed that they needed the system to be shipped back to them. When I spoke to an engineer on the telephone, he claimed that it wasn't sufficient merely to check that the hard drive had been wiped, and compare the serial number reported by its firmware with the one in their records. He said they had to actually take the laptop apart and read the serial number from the label on the hard drive, because I might have put a different hard drive into the laptop and flashed its firmware so that it pretended to have the same serial number as the original.

I pointed out that this was somewhat far-fetched, and if I was so inclined it would be much easier for me to just copy Windows off the original hard drive, send it back to them for validation, then put it back again afterwards. He agreed, but said that their agreement with Microsoft was that they must verify that the OS had been removed from the original hard drive — what happened after that wasn't their problem.

At this point, with the court proceedings already filed, they agreed to pay for the courier (and the court costs). Since it would only take a few days, I conceded. Before shipping it off to them, however, I took a screwdriver and carefully aligned all the screws so that I could tell if it had been opened.

Imagine my surprise when it came back and they hadn't opened the case! Despite all their protestation that they needed physical access, and that they had to open the case and physically read the serial numbers from the hard drive, when they finally got the opportunity to do so they didn't bother.

All they did was check the partitioning and serial number through software — which they could have done months ago, remotely.

As far as I can tell, it's just a huge scam to prevent customers from claiming the refund for the unlawfully-bundled software, by making it cost more to do so than they get in the refund. I certainly would have given up a long time ago if it wasn't for the principle of the thing.

Now it seems entirely clear that Acer are simply attempting to defraud their customers, though, I shall be reporting it to Trading Standards to see what they have to say about the matter.

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