How a broken computer led to a lesson in trust

By Moira Billinge

I had a problem recently with my internet security system and, having been badly compromised a couple of years ago by fraudsters, was understandably anxious to sort it out quickly. I am not great with technology and resigned myself to the fact that rectifying the situation wasn't going to be an easy task.

I contacted the internet service provider and was connected to a technician who gave me the good news first – that he was able to help – followed by the bad news that it would involve him taking over my computer by remote control. If I granted him the required permission, then with a few simple steps he could, from a call centre in India, take over my entire computer to make the requisite changes and put me back on a secure footing.

The technician was polite, friendly and sounded like he knew what he was doing, and in my desperation I gave him permission. A notice came up on my screen informing me that I could now 'Sit back and relax and watch the work being done for me'. My idea of relax felt very far removed from this concept; after all, I was giving a total stranger carte blanche to access the very heart of my machine.

I witnessed the cursor dart across my screen, pressing one icon or another, and even detected when the operator was hesitating as the cursor hovered or lingered a little longer in a particular area. It was a strange, unnerving process that seemed to take forever. I had visions that at any moment something would go terribly wrong and I'd find out that all my passwords, bank details and information had gone astray – enabling the technician and his pals to have a party at my expense.  

Eventually, the problem was fixed and amid my profuse and very genuine thanks, I promised the technician – now my knight in shining armour – that I would fill in a customer satisfaction form. When it arrived I happily scored him ten out of ten on every question and would have added a gold star if such a facility had been available.

My relief that my security had been restored was tempered by a deep sense of guilt and disappointment in the lack of trust that I had initially afforded the person who helped me during the process. I am realistic enough to accept that there are legions of charlatans around who pretend to be trustworthy when they are anything but, and I've seen too many people exploited by 'nice' conmen. 

Suspicion, however, should not be our instant knee-jerk reaction, because as human beings we need to and want to trust one another. In the musical The King And I, Yul Brynner, playing the part of the King of Siam, sings: "Unless, one day, somebody trusts somebody, there'll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes." His words have a ring of truth.

A problem shared is a problem doubled if it is with the wrong person, but we all have to learn to trust at some point in our lives, or we risk becoming isolated from the rest of society. Of course, we must always be vigilant, but at the same time we need to be open to the possibility that the person with whom we are dealing is actually being honest – just like my technician.