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Exposed: the PC repair shops that rifle through your photos and passwords

By Sky News Reporter

Posted on 22 Jul 2009 at 12:03

When Sky News launched an undercover investigation into PC repair shops, it turned to PC Pro readers for help with identifying rogue traders. As a result, Sky's cameras caught technicians scouring through private photos, stealing passwords and over-charging for basic repairs. Here is what they found

How many technicians does it take to fix a laptop? Just one, but if you know where to find him, please let us know.

We'd heard there were serious problems with computer repair shops: faults misdiagnosed, overcharging for work and data deleted. So we put them to the test in order to find out why customers were getting such a raw deal and who the culprits were.

The exercise was simple. Create a simple fault on a laptop, load it with spy software, take it into several repair shops, then sit back and see what happened. Would they arrive at the same diagnosis and charge us a fair price to fix it?

First, Sky News engineers installed professional spy software on a new laptop. Spector Pro was programmed to load on start-up and silently record every 'event' that took place. If the mouse was moved, a folder opened or a file looked at, we would know about it. Every event would also trigger a screen snapshot to be taken.

We also installed Digiwatcher. This devious little tool auto-runs on start-up and quietly tells any connected webcam to secretly film whoever is at the machine. The process is invisible and the video file is hidden on the hard drive and password protected.

We then filled the hard drive with the sort of data anyone might have on their PC: holiday photos, curriculum vitae, MP3s, Word documents and log-in details. Our laptop now looked just like any other.

To create the fault, we simply loosened one of the memory chips so Windows wouldn't load. To get things working again, one needs only push the chip back into the slot and reboot the machine. Any half-way competent engineers should fix it in minutes.

All we needed now was our targets. We teamed up with PC Pro readers to track down shops with the worst reputation and took our laptop into be repaired. We expected poor customer service, but nothing prepared us for the first shop we visited.

Snooping on holiday snaps

Laptop Revival in Hammersmith initially offered us a free diagnosis when we dropped our laptop off. Yet the spy software later revealed something extraordinary. The webcam shows that almost immediately the technician discovers our loose memory chip and clicks it back into position [based on recorded boot and shut down times]. The machine is rebooted and the problem solved.

Yet he then begins browsing through our hard drive. A folder marked 'Private' is opened and he flicks through our researcher's holiday photographs, including intimate snaps of her wearing a bikini. He stares at picture after picture, stopping only to show them to colleagues.

He then picks up the phone and calls our researcher. He tells her our motherboard is faulty and will need to be replaced. Usually it costs £130 but he'll do it for £100. We tell him we'll think about it and call him tomorrow.

After more snooping, he logs off. But a few hours later, another technician boots our machine. He also begins searching our hard drive until he finds log-in details for our Facebook and Hotmail accounts. With a cackle he removes a memory stick from around his neck, plugs it in and then copies them across.

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User comments

I know a company that does this everyday. They dont steal peoples details i have to make that clear now but they do misdiagnosed and look throught peoples personal files. i know this to be a fact because i work for this company and am fed up with how they work and currently looking for somewhere else to work.

By Wacky17 on 5 Oct 2009

Is Morality dead?!? Not at!

It seems these companies truly have no morality, and should be exposed! is constantly trying to ensure our engineers are educated in best practices and nobility. Good will is priceless, and something small companies should thrive on. Wacky17: If you want a job, get in touch ;)

By TheITPitStop on 24 Jan 2011

Tricky One

I am a computer technician. I work on computers every day. Some faults do not require the looking at of private data. What these people are doing is totally wrong.

However, some jobs would require looking at data. For example, if a customer asked me to format the hard drive and backup their data for them, I would then need to look at some of that data once restored, to make sure it did not get corrupted in any way. Yes you can do checks without looking, but a quick view of photos or documents makes sure everything is ok. I would hate to think I was being spied on and then accused of something I was not doing for the wrong reasons. Just the other side of the coin here.

By technicalguy on 19 May 2011

Dear technical guy

where about in the uk are you? i keep taking my laptop to pc world to be fixed but everytime they dont charge me.. and my mom comes back so chuffted that they didnt charge to fix it.. but the thing is they didnt do ANYTHING THATS WHY, last time my laptop broke the guy just removed the symptoms of the problem(it was a virus that made itself show up on my webpage toolbar) well the virus was still there i checked my laptop and found it again:/ all he did was hide it, in the end i had to recover my laptop.
im having a problem with it running slow, and the cabels got a hole in and the laptop wont charge past 78%, i've turned it off with the battery out and pressed the on button for 20 seconds but still nothing, if you're near where i live maybe you could help me out!? or maybe you know someone who could? theres another technician near me but he CHARGES for doing nothing:/

By needhelp on 7 Jul 2011

it's not unusual

We hear horror stories all the time like this. They are giving the industry a bad name. But not every repair company is a bad apple.

By ConfidentialPCrepairs on 8 Jul 2011

Nothing new

Also some repair shops may do the dirty on a unsuspecting person by swapping out and changing parts with inferior hardware and that person would be none the wiser.

By meman on 8 Aug 2011

Its disgusting...

I hate people are having their trust broken by these rogues traders. I have many clients who have recently switched to us because of these exact issues like local companies. As a small IT firm, honesty and great customer service is what brings in the customers - at least thats whats working for us.

By JMVSolutions on 15 Sep 2011

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