Dangerous ducks and other ways Best Buy’s Geek Squad does its part

by Peter Elwell

Geek Squad“Don’t click on the ducks!”  “Free is a trick!”

These are two basic lessons learned from Project in Pride for Living (PPL) participants who recently completed Internet safety training provided by volunteers from Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

For many low-income families, obtaining a computer and finding affordable Internet access is difficult.  Even if these two hurdles are overcome, other, more complicated challenges often await — since an inexperienced user is more susceptible to getting virus’ and other unwanted malware on their computer.  There are a variety of reasons for this including: lack of experience using the Internet, the natural temptation of ‘free’ (and otherwise deceptive offers), and that more people are typically using a single machine.  The high cost of professional tech support and troubleshooting only adds to the technical hardships that many Minnesotans  face.

In 2009, when  PPL had recently helped a number of families obtain free refurbished desktop computers, John Hegna (Geek Squad Agent 3056), approached PPL about ways that the Geek Squad could use their professional expertise to give back to the community.  “I was drawn to PPL because of their efforts to go beyond simple resume and interview preparation and empowering individuals with the computer skills needed for many careers today,” he says.

While many of these families found inexpensive Internet access, almost immediately, PPL staff members were flooded with phone calls about computer problems related to and stemming from the Internet. In response, the Geek Squad developed an Internet safety and virus protection training for families and individuals working with PPL.  The training addressed issues such as recognizing trick advertisements, avoiding fake security software and numerous other safe web surfing habits.  It highlighted aspects that may be harmful to one’s computer including: screen savers, downloadable games and Internet browser tool bars.  The training also provided instructions about installing updates and running anti-virus software.

To date, the Geek Squad Agents have enabled over 100 individuals to be both confident in their abilities and excited about making technology a part of their lives. “The feedback has been positive, as participants report better ongoing experiences and the number of families reporting computer problems dropped dramatically. Now, anyone who PPL assists in obtaining a refurbished computer is required to complete the Geek Squad training,”  says Sarah Koschinska, PPL Self-Sufficiency Program Director.

While the expertise Geek Squad shared with PPL and its participants has been wonderful, there is an ongoing need for other technology professionals and organizations to create similar partnerships within their own communities. “More volunteers from a computer and technology background would go a long way towards preparing people for using the Internet effectively and instill a personal confidence in technology that would carry over to better job opportunities,” says Hegna.

The digital divide includes both education and know-how — which makes safety training a very real and ongoing struggle for families trying to find employment, manage their finances, or stay connected with their children’s schooling — amongst many other basic uses which many of us tend to take for granted. Giving back to Minnesota isn’t reserved for the big boys; compassionate tech individuals and organizations can contact PPL for more information about how and where to get involved.