Tara Fitzgerald sought help locating missing photographs on her computer.
Riyaz Shaikh worked in an outsource call center in Mumbai under contract to Dell
SACRAMENTO, CA - A Sacramento woman's call to Dell technical support for help with a new computer set the stage for a humiliating sequence of events involving credit card fraud and the publication of some very personal photographs.
"I've been violated. My life's been violated," said Tara Fitzgerald. "I'm a woman, and no woman likes to be taken advantage of."
Update: Dell responds to report of rogue support tech
"Missing" nude photographs
Fitzgerald, 48, said she first called Dell's toll-free support hotline in late December 2008 after realizing she couldn't locate a number of erotic pictures of herself she thought she had saved on her desktop computer to send to her boyfriend.
The single mother of a 14-year-old daughter admittedly has very little working knowledge of computers and the Internet and was genuinely worried about where the nude pictures might appear.
"I couldn't find them on my computer and that made me nervous. I didn't know where they went," she said.
Fitzgerald said she was connected to a technical support representative in Mumbai, India, named Riyaz Shaikh. Fitzgerald explained the delicate nature of the task and authorized Shaikh to assume remote control of her computer.
"I trusted him. I trusted him because he was a Dell technician," she said.
Fitzgerald said she watched Shaikh browse the contents of her computer from Mumbai, then watched as Shaikh discovered her nude photographs attached to e-mails sent to her boyfriend.
"I watched him take the pictures out of my e-mail. I watched him," she said emphatically.
Shaikh later identified himself as an employee of Sitel India, an outsource call center service which offers technical support under contract to Dell.
Photographs appear on vulgar website
Following her initial contact with Dell's contract support provider, Fitzgerald received an e-mail from an unknown source notifying her that the racy photographs had shown up on a vulgar website established through a free hosting service.
The site, called "bitchtara," appears to have been created Jan. 7, 2009 and featured 16 nude and semi-nude photographs of Fitzgerald along with graphic descriptions of sexual activity she supposedly enjoys.
The site was still active Wednesday. News10 contacted the hosting service to notify the company the website violates its terms of service prohibiting adult content.
Fitzgerald said she asked Shaikh how her pictures could have been posted to the website and said Shaikh suggested her boyfriend provided them. She said Shaikh offered to help her get the website removed.
Fitzgerald was unaware of a comment attached to one of her 16 photographs by someone posting as "rayizshaikh," claiming ownership of the website.
"I never looked at the pictures. I was too embarrassed," Fitzgerald explained.
Tech support rep offers to "work from home"
Fitzgerald admitted that what she did next was remarkably naive.
She said Shaikh convinced her to buy him a new Dell laptop in Sacramento and ship it to his home in Mumbai so that he could work on her case from home. A parcel shipping order from UPS shows Fitzgerald spent $195 to ship the laptop by next-day air on Jan. 20, 2009.
"My conscience is talking to me, saying 'Tara, don't send this. Are you crazy?' I sent it anyway," she said.
Fitzgerald said she maintained contact with Shaikh, both through official Dell channels and through his personal e-mail and cell phone. Message logs obtained by News10 show Shaikh switching seamlessly between his official Dell technical support account and a personal messaging account.
Following the initial technical call, conversations between Fitzgerald and Shaikh quickly turned personal. Fitzgerald admitted being flattered by the attention from the Indian support tech, whose MySpace page identifies him as being 24 years old. "He's very charming and he knew exactly what to say. It warmed my heart," she said.
Fitzgerald shared a number of personal e-mails Shaikh sent her from his Hotmail account shortly after their first conversation, including the following message dated Jan. 11, 2009:
"There are no words to express how I feel about you. I constantly search for the words, and they all seem less than I truly feel. You are my life, my heart, and my soul. You are my best friend. You are my one true love. I still remember the day we first met. I knew that you were the one I was meant to be with forever."
Stolen Dell credit card information
Two months after Fitzgerald's initial call to Dell technical support, the relationship with her Indian contact took a bizarre turn. On Valentine's Day 2009, Fitzgerald said Shaikh told her he had fallen in love with a 22-year-old woman in Tennessee who had also called Dell technical support.
Fitzgerald said Shaikh actually introduced the two online. "I couldn't believe it. It was so strange," she said.
Fitzgerald later discovered two mysterious purchases on Feb. 17 totalling $802 charged to her Dell Preferred credit card. She called Dell and was told the charges were for a computer system and router shipped to a woman in Waynesboro, Tennessee.
A call to the woman in Tennessee by News10 was not returned.
Fitzgerald recalled Shaikh asked for her Dell Preferred credit card information during an earlier support call, ostensibly to buy software for her desktop computer. She said when confronted with the charges, Shaikh did not deny using the account to purchase the computer for the woman in Tennessee.
In a log of messages exchanged between Fitzgerald and Shaikh on March 18, 2009, Shaikh wrote:
(Riyaz...Dell Certified L2 (level 2) Technician) "ur my True friend Tara... I am sorry Accidently I charged ur Dell Account but I will pay. I don't want to loose my job. It was a mistake which happend with me and I am screwed."
Fitzgerald said she has continued a dialogue with Shaikh in an effort to get him to pay her for the fraudulent charges.
As recently as this week, Shaikh was still offering to pay for the computer and router charged to Fitzgerald's account.
A message log from Tuesday showed Shaikh contacting Fitzgerald from a personal account called "riyazrules:"
"We will pay u 1000. 500 and 500. remaining 500 u have to wait 2-4 mth."
Shaikh did not respond to an e-mail from News10 requesting an explanation for his behavior.
Incidents reported to Dell
Fitzgerald said she reported the inappropriate contact, data theft and credit fraud to Dell on three separate occasions last year.
She said Dell's response was to send her an affidavit giving her the opportunity to disavow the fraudulent charges on her Dell Preferred credit card. Fitzgerald refused to sign it, she said, because she wanted Dell to acknowledge the charges had been made by one of its representatives.
Her last contact from Dell, she said, was a demand letter dated May 8, 2010, seeking a past due payment of $77 on her Dell Preferred credit card.
Fitzgerald believes Shaikh was still answering calls for Dell technical support.
"They haven't done anything. I'm upset about that," she said. Fitzgerald also filed a report with the Sacramento Police Department on July 22, 2009. There has been no movement on the report, she said.
Fitzgerald contacted News10 to publicize the ordeal despite the embarrassment it will cause her. She said she was preparing her daughter for the story to break. "I'd like everyone to know about it," she said.
Fitzgerald said stress had caused her to lose her job with a local catering company. She said she struggles with the shame of allowing herself to be so easily manipulated.
She said she was seeking an attorney to pursue a claim against Dell.
by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net