Dell spell: When backup is key

"I'm in the midst of a Dell nightmare that has me waking up screaming." Yikes! I was almost afraid to keep reading. The email, from Gail South, brought back memories of my two columns on Kay Slaughter's battles with Dell ["Slaughter's Saga," July 31, 2003, and "Does Not Compute," August 14, 2003].

Slaughter had long-running problems with her new Inspiron 4100 laptop; South has allegedly been having problems with her Inspiron 1100 ever since she bought it last June.

South, who's working on an MFA in fiction at Goddard College, claims that the laptop "completely died" while she was trying to make a deadline with a 40-page paper. After what she claims took "a couple of phone calls and a couple of hours on hold," Dell agreed to send her a new hard drive.

While waiting for the new drive to arrive, South's husband "pulled the old one out again (as they had us do while I was on the phone with them)," and it restarted– so they sent the replacement drive back. That may have been a mistake– because, allegedly, the problems restarted as well.

South had been using a USB memory key (a little storage device about the size of a pen) for backup, but claims that it died in late October. She switched to the CD-RW drive, which she says "was not functioning when I first got the computer." After downloading software first from Dell's website and then Microsoft's, it began working, "but not well." When she emailed me on October 30, however, the CD-RW drive had allegedly died as well.

South says that saving documents has always been touch-and-go; the computer would unexpectedly close down, "and there was no way to save the document." She began hitting "save" after every paragraph. "I now have no backup system, and the C drive works only sporadically. I have emailed Dell with no response.

"Please help me before I lose my mind," South wrote. "Trying to be creative under pressure is hard enough without having to spend hours a day dealing with a dysfunctional computer."

It took a while to get the machinery to move at Dell. The first person I spoke with at Dell public relations called the following week to announce that she was about to give birth, but had turned the matter over to her boss, Venancio Figueroa. Figueroa had never heard of South or her travails, but promised to see that her problems were addressed.

Over the next week I called Figueroa several times to give him the same update: Nothing was happening. Finally, on November 20, South got some action, and she emailed me the results.

Patrick Hebert, of Dell's tech support department, she reported, had saved the day. "He promised to send a new CD-RW disk, which he thinks is not working because it has a faulty laser, and a new USB key." He also got started on diagnosing the matter of the computer's suddenly shutting down, and told her that if the problem proves to be internal, Dell will replace it.

"If all of Dell were as helpful as Patrick Hebert," South wrote in closing, "it would be a fine company." I'm crossing my fingers that South's good fortune will continue.



The last we heard from J.D. Marvel Products, a mail-order outfit in upstate New York, Katherine Russo would absolutely, positively have her refund check by mid-November ["Gone Cuckoo," October 30]. Russo paid $29.95 on March 3 for two cuckoo clocks, which never materialized– although there was certainly no delay in cashing her check.

She contacted the company in late May, with no success. In August she began asking for a refund, and was assured– first in August and then September– that the check would arrive on a given date. I got the same story; this time, the check was definitely going to be mailed at the end of October and would arrive by the middle of November.

Once again, however, it didn't. Russo has wisely decided to put this sorry business behind her, and so have I.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.


The printed version of this story contained an error, which has been corrected in the text above. Here is the correction that ran the following week.

CORRECTION- She goes to Goddard

Published December 2, 2003, in issue #0248 of The Hook

The November 27 installment of The Fearless Consumer, "Dell spell: When backup is key," misstated the college the consumer attends. It's Goddard.