Caught on camera: The IT repairmen who spy on your files
By Colin Fernandez
Last updated at 8:03 AM on 23rd July 2009
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Computer repair firms entrusted with a 'faulty' laptop illegally snooped through a customer's personal files and one even tried to hack into her bank account.
An undercover investigation found technicians stealing passwords, overcharging for basic work and nosing through private pictures of the laptop's owner in a bikini.
Investigators wired a new laptop with hidden cameras and spy software that operated without the engineers' knowledge.
This laptop technician was caught snooping on a female customer's pictures and personal files
The laptop had been given an easily identifiable fault: a loose memory chip that stopped the computer from starting.
To get it working, the chip simply needed to be popped back into position.
The investigators from Sky News took the computer to six repair shops in London.
The most serious offender was Laptop Revival in Hammersmith, West London.
Shortly after identifying the real fault, the firm's engineer called to say the computer needed a new motherboard, costing £130.
During the undercover investigation, other technicians were caught trying to get into customers' online bank accounts as well as stealing passwords
The surveillance software then recorded a technician browsing through the files on the hard drive, including intimate holiday photos, some showing the Sky researcher in her bikini.
As the technician snooped through the files, he was filmed grinning and showing the pictures to another colleague.
Later in the same shop, a second technician loaded up the machine to look through the photos - stored inside a folder marked 'private'.
Laughing, the repairman loaded the pictures onto a memory stick he kept round his neck - which the software found was also packed with similar photos in a folder labelled 'Mamma Jammas' - street slang for women with large breasts.
He also copied a file containing passwords for Facebook, Hotmail, eBay and a NatWest bank account.
The laptop was examined by technicians at Digitech and PC World
Once the technician had discovered this information, he opened a web browser on the laptop and attempted to log into the bank account for five minutes - failing because the details were false.
Laptop Revival declined to comment on the investigation.
A technician at Digitech, in Putney, South-West London, also examined the investigator's holiday pictures - after looking over his shoulder.
An employee at the shop said: 'We looked at the pictures to see if the memory was fully functional.'
A PC World repairman in Brentford, West London, told the investigators that the computer 'needed a new motherboard', costing £230.
When the computer was collected, only the memory chip - which was not faulty - had been replaced.
PC World spokesman Anina Castle said: 'We have a £230 charge for looking at any out of warranty faults.'
One technician charged £230 for motherboard but only replaced a memory chip
Micro Anvika, in Tottenham Court Road, Central London, fixed the laptop before ringing to say further diagnostic tests were needed.
It charged £145 for a full examination of the laptop.
The firm has since apologised and refunded some of the fee.
Technicians at Evnova Computers in Barbican in the City of London also discovered the loose memory chip and fixed it, but not before they, too, said the motherboard needed replacing.
When the offer of a new motherboard was declined, it appeared that someone from Evnova soldered the pins of the chip together to recreate the original fault.
This footage reveals how one technician tried to get into a customer's on-line bank account
The firm later claimed it thought the undercover reporter was from a rival repair company.
Only one shop came out with a clean bill of health: Pix 4 in Shepherd's Bush, West London. The company popped the chip back into place, and for free.
Richard Webb, the Trading Standards Institute's spokesman on web commerce, said: It's a big abuse of trust. If you were expert in computers you wouldn't have to hand in your machine to be repaired. They know that.'
Chief of Staff, 007's gone round the bend. Says someone's been trying to feed him a poisoned banana. Fellow's lost his nerve. Been in the hospital too long. Better call him home.
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