Hidden Guns and Vermin: PC Refurbishing Nightmares

Have you ever spilled a cup of coffee on your keyboard and felt like a complete mess? What about dropping far too many crumbs into your PC? Times like these can you make you wonder if you’re the last person who should even own a computer.

But it turns out, you’re not the worst. Spills and crumbs are normal as can be and probably even a welcome deviation from the weapons, wounds, critters and carcasses PC refurbishers have found on the job. The following is a collection of horrific tales from real refurbishers that prove there’s much worse that can happen to a computer than spilled coffee. Welcome to PC refurbishing nightmares.

Say Hello to My Little Friend

Credit: Sascha Burkard/ShutterstockCredit: Sascha Burkard/Shutterstock
Gun control is a controversial topic with many layers, but we’ve yet to see the debate take on this next issue.

Free Geek takes electronics donations and refurbishes them to sell for low or no cost. Once, the company opened a donated desktop to remove its hard drive and any other data and found it was packing heat — and we’re not talking about the CPU.

“In the slot where the optical drive normally sits was a handgun sitting in the slot,” Amber Schmidt, Free Geek’s Manager of Technology Refurbishment, told Tom’s Hardware. “The safety was off. There wasn’t a bullet in the chamber, but there were six rounds in the clip,”

However you feel about guns, perhaps we can all agree there are safer places to store one than inside your chassis.

“That’s not the first place you would think to stash a gun, at least for me. It’s not particularly easy to get inside a computer quickly if you need to respond to something. They would’ve had to take the side panel off and actually reach into the machine and pull the gun out to be able to do anything,” Schmidt said.

“In the slot where the optical drive normally sits was a handgun sitting in the slot,” Amber Schmidt, Free Geek’s Manager of Technology Refurbishment, told Tom’s Hardware. “The safety was off. There wasn’t a bullet in the chamber, but there were six rounds in the clip,”

While armed PCs are out of the norm for Free Geek, computers suffering from bullet wounds are quite typical for Rugged Depot a refurbisher focused on military-grade and first responders’ Panasonic devices.

“It’s going to be bullet holes made by either a 9mm or a .45 caliber or an AR-15 round with a .223 [Remington rifle cartridge] or 5.56 [cartridge] or a .308 [Winchester rifle cartridge]. We can actually identify the caliber based on the hole size because we’ve seen it so many times that we know what type of weapon was used,” Robert Baldyga, VP of service at Rugged Depot, told Tom’s Hardware.

“It depends on where the bullet goes through. Nine out of ten times the bullet hole’s going to be in the computer screen,” he explained, pointing to clamshell laptops. “So the screen opens up and somebody might duck down so they don’t get hit with a bullet and get killed, and the bullet will hit the computer screen from the back and go through.”

“When we refurbish those, basically the entire upper assembly needs to be replaced. You're talking the LCD screen itself, they’re all touchscreen, the touch panel, all the antennas that go from the bottom of the computer go into the screen for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G LTE … all of those components need to be replaced.”

Nine out of ten times the bullet hole’s going to be in the computer screen.

Baldyga said repairing a computer that’s been shot costs upwards of $1,500-$2,000.

The Phoenix PC


Credit: Robert Baldyga/Rugged Depot

Rugged Depot also works with electronics first responders use. The PC above was caught in a fire and melted down into what Baldyga could only describe as a “melted and crazy glob of gloop.” The best part is that like the mythical Phoenix, this Panasonic Toughbook CF28 was able to survive the flames and rose from its metaphorical ashes with the ability still to turn on and function.

“That’s a testament to Panasonic products and how durable they actually are,” Baldyga said.

The Other Kind of PC Storage


Credit: Valentina De Menego/ShutterstockCredit: Valentina De Menego/Shutterstock
Here in New York, we know how difficult it can be to find good storage solutions. But this next story takes the idea of PC storage to a new level.

Casey Sorensen, CEO of PCs for People, recalls receiving a PC case with two of the covers to the optical drive missing and replaced by a mysterious residue.

“Someone had just been sliding everything into that, from chicken bones to other pieces of food, toys, fast food wrappers and about six or seven pieces of silverware that wasn't like the throwaway plastic; this was someone’s nice household silverware,” he explains.

Sorensen suggested a toddler may have been the culprit, but we still think it’s possible it was the result of an adult trying to juggle a lack of spacious real estate and plethora of chicken wings — just like New York City.

“Someone had just been sliding everything into that, from chicken bones to other pieces of food, toys, fast food wrappers and about six or seven pieces of silverware that wasn't like the throwaway plastic; this was someone’s nice household silverware,” he explains.

Cockroach Horrors

What’s absolutely disgusting and lurking in a surprising volume of unwanted PCs? Unfortunately, it’s everyone’s least favorite pest, cockroaches.

PCs for People staff once found a whopping 25 cockroaches getting cozy in the mid-tower case of a Windows-based PC.

“They shined a light in it, and underneath the motherboard cockroaches just started going everywhere, trying to get out of the case, get away from the light and scramble,” Sorensen said.

The dozens of cockroaches ran across desks and were bagged and wiped away. But eventually PCs for People realized they had an infestation on their hands.

“We ended up finding some in the kitchen and on some of our staff’s desk, and so we had to get an exterminator in and pay them to take care of the problem,” Sorensen says. “It took multiple visits from the exterminator to end up getting the cockroaches out of the building.”

“They shined a light in it, and underneath the motherboard cockroaches just started going everywhere, trying to get out of the case, get away from the light and scramble,” Sorensen said.

Sadly, clusters of cockroaches are pretty common for PC refurbishers. In fact, PCs for People has a method for knowing if an electronic might be the local hangout for cockroaches. How? By sniffing out “a distinct, lingering, pungent mix of sweet, musty and oil.”

“It’s more regular than we would like, especially with individual computers that may not have come from the cleanest environment. The computer is a nice, warm nest of cables and cords where if there are [pests] they like to get in there and make themselves a home,” Sorensen said.

Credit: puwanai/ShutterstockCredit: puwanai/Shutterstock
At PCs for People, items infected by any creatures are wiped clean of any data, stored in a black plastic bag and quarantined in a back garage separated from the rest of the facilities before heading to a recycler. No refurbishing these roach motels.

City Mouse, Country Mouse, Keyboard Mouse

Also disturbingly common in the refurbishing world is finding mice chilling in chassis. Motherboard once found an entire family of mice, and their droppings, in a box of donated keyboards.

“The keyboards were all chewed up. The mice had brought some packaging materials from another box. They made a little nest out of some styrofoam peanuts, and cardboard and even little chunks of plastic from the keyboards and chewed through all the wires and such,” Toller said.

“I think we’ve found deceased rodents more than living rodents. Maybe a couple times a year we’ll find a carcass of something inside of a PC,”  Free Geek’s Schmidt said.

Even worse, the mice made their way outside of their keyboard homes.

“We had little mice running all through our stuff,” Toller said. “One escaped through the back door, and one we know we caught in a trap. One, we think, the joke around here, is that it’s still around somewhere... Anytime anything odd happens around here, we blame the mouse.”

Unfortunately, mice seem to be a relatively common occurrence in this business, be they alive or otherwise.

“I think we’ve found deceased rodents more than living rodents. Maybe a couple times a year we’ll find a carcass of something inside of a PC,”  Free Geek’s Schmidt said.

RIP Fluffy

What’s worse than finding living animals in your refurbishing pile? Finding a dead one.

Schmidt and a colleague once took in several seemingly average boxes of miscellaneous electronic donations. While going through the items, the pair noticed a jar nestled in the bottom of one of the boxes.

“We pull out the jar, and it had a little plaque on the jar that said Fluffy,” Schmidt said. “So we opened up the jar because why wouldn’t you open the jar? And there were ashes. There were cremated remains in this jar.”

Free Geek contacted the donor, and it turned out the person had misplaced the urn and was desperately searching for Fluffy’s memory.

Note that all refurbishers I spoke to who have found a creature (living or otherwise) in an item say those systems do not get refurbished and are instead recycled.

“If I find dead animals in things, even if it’s a really nice machine, I’m going to choose to not refurbish it because I don’t know what could possibly be in that machine and I don’t want to pass that along to other people, “ Schmidt explained.

The Hacksaw Modder

PC modders are known for doing what it takes to have a distinctive machine that mirrors their unique style and needs. Usually this means picking an aesthetically pleasing case, handpicking components and RGBing to your heart’s content. For one so-called modder, it meant taking a hacksaw to a chassis it in order to fit a full-sized PCI card into a half-size case. This was then donated to PCs for People for refurbishing.

“They said, ‘Well, I went to a store and they didn’t have the card that I wanted in half-size cards, so I did a mod to my case’. I was like, ‘I don’t think I would call that a mod,’” Sorensen recalled.

But in that person’s defense, the PC still worked. Half of the card was just visibly sticking out of the top of the slim case.

Are you a refurbisher with a crazy story of your own? Or maybe you’ve done some shocking things to your own PC that would make any one in this industry gasp. Either way, share your stories in the comments section below.

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  • shrapnel_indie
    My bigger concern on the find of a gun tucked inside the case... would be why it was there... did this PC cross state lines before I got a hold of it? (handguns bought and sold across state lines legally require a FFL to send and receive the weapon.) Also Happy to know with no safety, or safety off there was none "in the pipe."

    As to the guys that can distinguish between bullet calibers... they can really tell the difference between 5.56 and .223, or 7.62 and .308?


    As to bugs... unfortunately I've had to fix infested computers before. Not thrilling when you know you don't want them moving in.
  • Math Geek
    i always open a pc i am fixing outside if i have any concerns at all. better to have whatever run off outside than in my house!!

    more annoying to me than the vermin and such is when it is stuffed full of dust. every nook and cranny is crammed full. i've seen fans stuck so they wont' turn from so much dust. no clue how long it takes to get that way but i'm sure it's longer than most folks own a pc!!
  • faslanetech
    Meh. I always find dead bugs and shit in PC towers. It's actually super.common. most.people leave them on floors easy to get to for the spiders and shit and it's warm inside. Hell I'd get.in one too if I were a spider looking for a warm place.
  • faslanetech
    I always blow out and dust off all towers I service anyway so the first thing I do is blow them out outside before they are brought in anyways...
  • The Paladin
    one of the reasons when I recycle computers from people for donations is I open the case both sides and front panel outside the house. I have seen mice, roaches, ants, no gun or dead pet mind you... as for not using the hardware that had any of the previously found items, I am more a take it all apart with gloves and clean it out and "sanfax" everything clean. and rebuild it.

    for you too young that never worked a cleaning job in their life, the word sanfax is a brand name for a industrial cleaning products.
    https://www.trademarkia.com/sanfax-71679492.html
  • aardwolfweb
    The oddest thing I every found in a pic case was at a residential client's. I was called to troubleshoot a slow computer. I couldn't find any software reason for it to be slow and checked the CPU speed, sure enough it seemed like it was being throttled. Usually this means the heatsink is clogged with dust. This time, it was because there was a mummified tree frog with it's leg caught in the fan. As strange as that was, what was even weirder was that there were a half dozen of his dried up buddies in there, too.
  • forrestblade.code
    Aardwolfweb that's insane! Wow what part of the world we're you in?
  • aardwolfweb
    FORRESTBLADE.CODE Far Northern California near Humboldt Bay. It was a home in a rural area and the PC was in a guest/exercise/game/computer room, downstairs by the garage. It had two doors, one that led to the garage and an exterior door. According to the owner, sometimes the little green tree frogs would squeeze their way under the exterior door and through the weatherstripping and they would find them on the walls. These weren't babies though, they were grown tree frogs. I assume they were looking for the warmth.
  • forrestblade.code
    Dang that's wild. I actually used to live in that area. State of Jefferson!!
  • stdragon
    It's quite common to replace PSUs in any computer located in a restaurant (managers office PC for example). ROACH INFESTATION!!! Their little legs bridge solder joints where they shouldn't, and *SNAP* *POP*, goes the magic smoke!

    I suppose that a proper establishment inspection would involve cracking open the side case of any PC. Though if that were to occur, I'm sure over 95% of all eating establishments would be shutdown. So, some things are best overlooked I suppose.
  • quilciri
    Found a leaked bottle of ranch dressing in a PC case once. I say "leaked" instead of leaking, because (thankfully) the pool of ranch in the bottom of the case had long ago hardened into a faintly pungent epoxy.

    ...this was an actively used PC up until our reclamation brought it around...so someone was using this PC while the inside was coated with ranch being heated and the scent blown around in an office space by the fans.
  • stdragon
    Anonymous said:
    Found a leaked bottle of ranch dressing in a PC case once.


    What I found more interesting is how a bottle of ranch dressing found its way inside the PC in the first place :lol:
  • zthomas
    Took my machine in for cleaning and upgrading.. ahh ha a roach zipped out as soon as the side was unlocked.. waiting 5 long days for my turn at the tuneup bench I received a call to pick up my infested tower.. In my book cleaning covers a few bugs inside the case, I had spent thousands at this shop and had a service contract for almost 10 years. I am called for one roach and few dead companions, yeah I picked up the computer tower and then opened the yellow pages my machine got cleaned and turned up in less than two days.
  • Christopher_156
    I used to work at FreeGeek and if I remember right we've also found bags of white powder inside lap-tops that we were re-furbishing.
  • Whitemorn
    I can't see the validity in this article. Throw the crap in the trash and get on with your life if you have one!
  • Whitemorn
    I mean, I have had to leave the past behind several times and unless you are a Russian meddling in an election, just say goodbye to your old hardware! That said, I think the comments are quite entertaining!
  • CountMike
    I found bunch of coins inside one case. Contacted owner and it was his two very young daughters slipping in coins to start games. Shouldn't take young kids to arcades. Bugs and mice nests are not uncommon but one had a lump of coal inside.
  • jeffh3c
    Like calling bill gates a top detective in Detroit I have to correct a complete mistake in most areas of the gun. First a revolver doesn't have a "clip" it has a cylinder. Second a revolver (the type handgun your describing) doesn't have a safety due to how it is constructed. I have seen locks that require a tool and it locks it until a tool unlocks, but that would be more like saying you removed the entire cd drive and put in another drive to change disks. I am not picking a fight, but knowing what the facts on this would be helpful; even if only in a conversation in the future.
  • stdragon
    Anonymous said:
    I used to work at FreeGeek and if I remember right we've also found bags of white powder inside lap-tops that we were re-furbishing.


    :lol: Probably cocaine, and worth more than that PC

    Edit: Disclaimer - Drugs are bad. Don't do drugs
  • shrapnel_indie
    Anonymous said:
    Like calling bill gates a top detective in Detroit I have to correct a complete mistake in most areas of the gun. First a revolver doesn't have a "clip" it has a cylinder. Second a revolver (the type handgun your describing) doesn't have a safety due to how it is constructed. I have seen locks that require a tool and it locks it until a tool unlocks, but that would be more like saying you removed the entire cd drive and put in another drive to change disks. I am not picking a fight, but knowing what the facts on this would be helpful; even if only in a conversation in the future.


    I can't be 100% sure of this: The image is definitely a revolver. (Someone just grab the first royalty-free hand gun image they found?) The description kind of doesn't support it, imho.


    Quote:
    “In the slot where the optical drive normally sits was a handgun sitting in the slot,” Amber Schmidt, Free Geek’s Manager of Technology Refurbishment, told Tom’s Hardware. “The safety was off. There wasn’t a bullet in the chamber, but there were six rounds in the clip,” {...} Schmidt said.


    It could potentially be a semi-auto. Six rounds in the [misused term] "clip" could be in error and it is a cylinder, as you state OR it could be a maxed out magazine, or a partially filled magazine. No bullet (cartridge) in the chamber... We don't know the caliber, and chances are they guy relating the story had no clue anyway.

    It certainly wasn't an M1 Garand found inside the case, which actually does use a clip. Doesn't fit "handgun."