Top 10 Tech Stupidity Taxes You Should Never Pay

  • MORE

Earlier this month, millions of Americans filed their income tax returns, but so many continue to pay an additional "stupidity" tax, not to the government, but to tech companies that take advantage of consumer laziness and computer illiteracy. You may think that you're smart paying that blue shirt to scan your computer for viruses, but he's laughing at you on his way to the bank. Avoid the digital dunce cap by steering clear of these common technology rip-offs.

Rent-to-Own Services

If you failed first grade math and get all your technology advice from washed up wrestlers, rent-to-own stores like Rent-a-Center and Aarons are here to take your money, all of it. You can rent a "worry-free" $349 notebook for around $25 a week and pay a mere $1,299 for it over the course of 12 months. But hey, if Hulk Hogan says it's a good deal, it must be one, "brother!"

More:5 Reasons to Spend More than $500 on Your Next Laptop

'Speed Up My PC' Services

In between commercials for lubricated catheters and pawn brokerages that buy your old jewelry, you'll see ads for software that promises to speed up your computer. What they don't say on air is that, after these programs perform a free scan in which they ALWAYS find some errors,  they charge you a hefty fee to "fix" your computer.

Don't fall for this flagrant fear-mongering. If your computer seems too slow, there are a number of steps you can take to speed it up on your own, including removing unnecessary programs from the startup list, uninstalling unnecessary software and tweaking your system settings.

More: Speed Your PC -- 34 Tips, Apps and Gear

Extra DVD Backups of Downloadable Software

You wouldn't take a $10 bill out of your pocket, blow your nose into it, run it through a shredder and then set it on fire for good measure, would you?

If you are willing to pay extra for an optical disc copy of software you are already buying and downloading online, you'd be better off destroying that currency in spectacular fashion, because a bonfire made out of snot-filled cash confetti would at least be interesting to watch. You have to have either the intelligence or the patience of an ADHD flea if you can't be bothered to make your own second copy of a file you just downloaded.

Protection Rackets . . . er, Plans

Whether you're buying a $1,000 notebook or a $10 USB key, retailers always want to sell you protection plans that promise to extend your warranty and give you better service.

Everyone from the blue shirts to the cashier to the security guard by the door will try to scare you into paying $100 to $400 extra to safeguard that $450 notebook, but you'd have to have be dumber than a piece of rotting wood to fall for their tactics.

First of all, these plans rarely protect you from anything except having too much money. In most cases, the fine print shows that you have to pay a huge deductible for service, the service you really need isn't actually covered or that you don't actually get an identical replacement for lost / destroyed gadgets.  

Second, let's face the facts here. You're better off taking the gamble that your gadget will break after its warranty ends than shelling out guaranteed money today for an extended warranty that probably won't help you in the unlikely event that you ever need it. If your gadget dies in year two or three, consider it a message from the electronics gods that it is time for something new.

More: 6 Ways Tech Companies Treat You Like a Sucker

Ringback Tones

Perhaps your friends don't have the guts to tell you this so I will. Nobody wants to hear the Macarena while waiting for you to pick up the phone. Ringback tones may be priced at only a couple of dollars each, but those charges add up quickly as 10 ringback tones cost as much as something truly valuable, a whole month of unlimited texting.

Even worse, these embarrassing tones will cost you the respect of your friends and colleagues. While you're at it, why don't you leave an outgoing voicemail message for your callers with the voice of Clint Eastwood saying "Go ahead. Make my day?" Hilarity is sure to ensue.

More:The New Rules of Digital Etiquette

Paying Geek Squad for Computer Maintenance

Most healthy, able-bodied people wouldn't pay a nurse with a bad case of the shakes to brush their teeth for them. So why on earth would someone with a sound mind and two working hands pay retail support techs to do simple computer maintenance that anyone with an IQ above 30 can do for himself?

Best Buy's Geek Squad support business charges $99 to burn 9.4GB of data to DVD for you; Staples EasyTech team charges $30 to install a piece of software for you; and Office Depot's Tech Depot department charges $99 to install Windows for you. Even Snooki can do all these things. Okay, maybe not. But you can.

More: Spring Clean Your Laptop 

Renting a Router From Your Broadband Provider

If you want to set up a wireless home network, you have a smart choice and a stupid choice. You can act like a capable adult and spend $30 to $100 on a router you can keep forever or you can pay a monthly Wi-Fi tithe to the cable company.

Believe it or not, major ISPs like Time Warner charge as much as $6 a month to rent you a router under what they call "Wi-Fi Service."  If you're dumb enough to fall for this scam, maybe you only deserve a single Ethernet-connected computer.

More: Wireless Routers Reviewed: Which Dual-Band Wi-Fi Device is Best

Exorbitant International Data Fees

When you travel to Europe, U.S. carriers are expecting you to get so high on absinthe that you won't notice what they're charging you for roaming. Even with a discount international data plan, AT&T charges you $25 for just 50MB of data with $1 per MB overage fee.  And 50MB is not enough for even a day of serious emailing.

So, by the time you come home, you'll have spent enough to buy Ralph De La Vega a new porch for his summer home. The smart way to avoid these stupid fees is to either buy a local SIM card or rent a Wi-Fi hotspot with unlimited data from XCom Global for $15 a day and tether your phone to that.

More: Stay Connected Overseas -- 5 Ways to Save Money 

Subsidized 3G/4G Tablets

There's nothing like the feeling of getting a bargain, even if the bargain exists only in your single-core, 600-MHz cerebellum. Wireless carriers are counting on your short-sightedness and inability to multiply by 24 when they try to sell you a mildly discounted tablet in exchange for you signing a two year broadband contract with them. Take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy Tab that Verizon is selling for $429.99 with a two year contract that costs at least $30 a month.

That's $949 over the life of the contract, during which time you'll probably decide that the tablet is too outdated to use and stick it in a drawer. Meanwhile, the same slate is available for just $448 in a Wi-Fi-only version you can use with your phone's hotspot ability or the routers at home and work. But you can't beat the feeling of saving $20 today. Can you, genius?

 More: Why You Should Just Say 'No' to Tablets with Data Plans

Paid People Finders (aka

You've seen the gripping commercials on late-night TV. "Seven people are searching for you. Who could they be," the narrator intones. Could it be your former boss, looking to hire you back? How about your ex, seeking to rekindle an old flame? For a small monthly fee, services like promise to help you find out.

First of all, if your former friends are searching for you but haven't found you through Google, they're too dumb to live, let alone hang out with. And if they found you, but didn't contact you, we call that "stalking."  If you think you need a paid social network to reconnect with people from your past, I've got a bank account in Nigeria that I need your help with.

 More: Top 6 Facebook Annoyances and How to Fix Them

Online Editorial Director Avram Piltch oversees the production and infrastructure of LAPTOP's web site. With a reputation as the staff's biggest geek, he has also helped develop a number of LAPTOP's custom tests, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. Catch the Geek's Geek column here every other week or follow Avram on twitter.

Recommended by Outbrain
Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
  • mikeh3775 Says:

    Extended warranties on Desktop and Laptops and even tablets can be great if they get used. I bought an HP laptop 2 yrs ago and also bought a 3 yr extended warranty, and the screen died on it. Took it to Best Buy, they said the screen is toast, walked me over to the laptop section and said that my laptop is worth $700, and to pick out a suitable replacement. I ended up with the same make and model, but 2 years newer which cost $599. I came out ahead. I once also bought a 42 inch Plasma TV, and 13 months after buying it(1 month after original warranty expired), it had issues, and I got a replacement for free which was better than the original, and about the time that warranty was to expire, it had its own issues and I ended up getting an even better TV out of it. So extended warranties can be worth the $$$

    As far as this article goes, you have to remember, not everyone is great with PC's. I can't tell you how many times I have driven 2 1/2 hours to go fix my grandma's PC for her because the family that is near her refuses to assist her anymore because its always the same thing all the time. People do not like to fix the same issues over and over and eventually tune them out.

    And some people, may not be able to afford to pay $500 right now for a large item, so they go to those places like Rent-A-Center, where they only pay $25 a week which they can afford, even though they would be better off simply putting that $25/week into a savings account until it gets to $500, but not many people think like that either, they want it now.

  • Stacey Says:

    What a snot! This is the last article I will read on this site.

  • Divemaster427 Says:

    To Ro,

    Are you kidding? You actually bought a plasma TV? Please tell us you replaced it with LED. And you call yourself an IT professional.

  • AVentheusiast Says:

    Not "Renting" a router makes common sense; unless your cable company doesn't give you an option to opt-out. I have Time-Warner Ultra-Wide Band Internet. I also own a very nice Motorola DOCSIS 3 cable modem & an enterprise level router + WAP's. Unfortunately; when I upgraded to the extra high bandwidth, I was informed that I could not use my own equipment with the service. Their systems will only authorize access to Time Warner provided Ubee Cable Gateways (Cable Modem; Router & WAP in a single box). They avoid the argument over a forced rental by simply inflating the monthly fee to include their equipment "at no extra charge."

    I didn't like the integrated router (detailed setup options I use for smart-home integration, firewall settings, etc were insanely complex to setup with the ubee web interface.) I ended up finding a web post to access a hidden setup menu; which allowed me to put the Ubee Cable Gateway's router into bridged mode. This essentially shut off its internal router & let me go back to my own router; which I already had configured. Unfortunately; even if I am using the Cable Modem portion that I am forced to rent via my monthly fee, I'm also forced to pay for a router & WAP that I neither want or use.

  • Ms Curious Says:

    The tone is more exasperated than snobbish. Unless you feel you have been screwed over! I have watched poor suckers getting bullied into getting many of the above things forced on them in stores, the lies used to foist trash on people are more funny than anything, but it is no laughing matter. Many of these things are pure common sense, but lack of ability to do simple math - use the calculator on your smart phone if you can find it, or people talking about 'support the economy or you will slow down the flow', another strange argument - another person whose elevator does not reach the top floor. Why not just leave a $50 tip for a hamburger? That will increase the flow, yes?
    As a friend of mine once told me, at a poker table if you do not know who the chump is, it is YOU!

    I blame the education system that has not taught us to think for ourselves, but only taught us to regurgitate 'facts'. :(

  • Silver Says:

    This is all stupid stuff. This is called economy, money flow. If you slowing down the flow - welcome to depression. Example: you're working in body shop and your computer has broken. You decided to fix it by yourself instead of calling a guy and pay $30-50. Fine. Congratulations! You just saved 50 bucks, but slowed down the flow. That same guy you didn't call to fix your computer will change spark plugs on his car by his hands instead of calling you to perform that for you. Remember people! Everything is connected! Don't break the links, spend your money and support the economy! Same things apply to sales people. The more money flows around - the more people can afford stuff even if they don't need it, but this creates more work opportunity. Think about it! You don't want to save and you don't want your customers to save either. Good luck!

  • Dr. Kenneth Noisewater Says:

    Time-Warner, at least in my neck of the woods, does not support bring-your-own cablemodems. The one they provide is an all-singing all-dancing wifi piece of crap router which I only use for 1 port, but I gotta use it (I did turn it into a dumb bridge though, so I can use my own router)..

  • Max Says:

    Have to agree about the general snobbishness of this article. Ro hits it right on the head.

    On the other hand- Jop, if your local Best Buy is charging $144 for a router, they're nuts. I've never paid more than $50.

  • Batbird Says:

    These are decent recommendations - all of them.

    But to the jerk who wrote this article: Almost every suggestion contains verbiage like, "...if you're just such an idiot, then you deserve to get screwed." Was that even close to necessary? The point of this tutorial was ostensibly to shepherd the less informed among us to a higher state of enlightenment, but was instead used as an opportunity to exhibit several choice traits of (misplaced) narcissism and heap abuse on people. Believe me, you're not that good.

    I was already 'enlightened', and didn't personally feel targeted. I read it because I thought about sending it to some family members that usually ask me their tech questions. But this tripe is not spongeworthy without also making an a$$clown of myself, so I'll just plagiarize the good parts from it - without attribution.

    Enjoy your sad life, dude.

  • Beth Fonville Says:

    I tried the do-it-yourself router. After six months of the cable company blaming our problem on the router and refusing to come out, and after buying two new routers, I finally rented their router. They came out immediately, and guess what--they had to fix the problem. Six months of "call the other guy, it's their equipment at fault" taught me the $$ value of being able to say "Hey, buster, it's all YOUR equipment!"

  • Anon Says:

    this "new" report or whatever is extremely biased and one-sided, and looks like it was written in a moment of rage after a single bad incident. There is no true evidence to back anything up, there's no real facts or statistics stated.
    The terms used (such as "stupidity tax", and "washed up wrestlers") are derogative and insulting. This feels completely unprofessional, and discourages me from trusting the information posted here or anywhere else on this website.

  • Barf McGillicutty Says:

    Usually the extended warranties are somewhat bogus. However, years ago at a computer store, my mother bought a printer. Back then printers were rather expensive, usually two or three hundred bucks.
    A creepy looking, very forceful salesman kept hounding us and pushing the extended warranty on us. After much browbeating my mother finally caved in and paid an extra fee for the extended warranty.
    After we left the store we were kind of annoyed we had been "bullied" into paying for the extended warranty.
    As luck would have it, the printer she bought completely died two days before the extended warranty ran out.
    She brought the printer back to the store the same day it quit working, and they gave her a brand new printer, even more advanced, with no questions asked. Heh heh!

  • Scott Hedrick Says:

    I paid for the extended warranty on my laptop (and I did read the fine print- it covers what I believe to be the most likely failure modes) because I beat the crap out of them. My desktop units are easy to maintain and upgrade, but the laptops are far more challenging to repair, and the parts are more expensive, so for me the extended warranty was a good bet. By the time the standard warranty is up on my desktop unit, I've changed or added so many parts there isn't much of the original machine left. With laptops, I'd added RAM and swapped out hard drives, and in one case changed from a CD burner to a DVD burner, but there isn't too much more I can do. Damn these big caucasian hands! The difference is you need to *read the fine print*. I buy most of my stuff from Dell, and the extended warranty offer made at the time of purchase seems better than what they offer when they call you 3 months later.

  • mentor397 Says:

    Elitist and snobbish. Trust me, if you act this way professionally, there are not seven people looking for you to be friends. They're looking for you and they have weapons.

  • Jop Says:

    I'm paying 4$/month for my router through my provider. I'll have it for 3 years before the cost equals the same router at Best Buy. By that time, a better one will be available and I would probably buy a new one. So same price, basically, but I get free support in the meantime.

  • James Says:

    Oddly, the Router-from-the-ISP can work for you. My ISP was running a special that actually made it cheaper to get the package with the ISP provided router than to just get service and use mine.

  • Ro Says:

    I guess it's easy to write an article like that for a magazine for enthusiasts... but really it comes off as snobbish and pretty stupid.

    Computers are now in the main stream... not everyone knows how to use them and they need help. Like all services there are charlatans and there are legitimate businesses but seriously, if you are a computer novice the only recourse may be a geek squad, because all of that person's computer savvy friends have stopped taking his call.

    As far as paying for the extended warranty? You know what... sometimes the 3 year extended warranty (especially like Dell's Complete Care) is a great deal. Because computer lives are so short... if I were to accidentally destroy my laptop after 2 years and 10 months... there's a good chance that Dell would rather give me a new/refurbished laptop of the current model instead of fixing my old one (this has happened at my work several times) We also purchased a $3500 Plasma TV and paid $350 for the 3 year extended warranty. TV had a panel fail 2 years in... this caused a yellow streak on the left side of the tv. They determined that it would cost more to fix so they sent me a check for $3500. We bought a brand new replacement TV for $2700.

    So, this article is so one-sided, angry, and just short of being the equivalent of a computer geek bully that it made me a little sad to read.

    I've been an IT professional for 20 years now and I'm tired of thinking that anyone can be an IT professional. You don't see lawyers saying... "Idiot actually paid someone $400 to draw up a Living Will"

  • Dr. Smarty Says:

    Should have added internet slideshow articles that plaster a top ten (or however many) list across 10 slow loading, ad filled pages.

  • Dr. Valerie Stevens Says:

    LOL, I didn't realize there's so many ways that some tech companies are ripping us of..Though it's just a few dollars, if you count the possible numbers of customers they have online, the profits from this "small" extra charges can rack up into hundreds of thousands...

    It's good marketing for the tech companies but additional expense for us who are not conscious of these things..Luckily I won't be among those who will be ripped off now.