It's no surprise that computer repair shops might snoop for porn on laptops they fix, but an investigation by Sky provides anecdotal evidence that unscrupulous repairmen are prepared to attempt bank fraud as well.
Sky planted surveillance software on a brand-new laptop, before rigging an easy to diagnose fault by dislodging an internal memory chip from its connection. Fixing the problem, which prevented Windows machines from booting, was as simple as pushing the chip back in. However all but one of six repair shops put through a mystery shopper test by Sky either misdiagnosed the fault or overcharged for repairs.
The worst overcharging offender was Laptop Revival from Hammersmith, West London, which claimed the laptop needed a new motherboard at a cost of £130, shortly after identifying the genuine fault.
The monitoring software logged one repair technician from Laptop Revival riffling through files in a folder clearly labelled as private, including photos of Sky's female researcher in her bikini. He called over a colleague to view the images. The pictures and supposed log-on details for social networking and online banking sites were downloaded onto a memory stick. Subsequent attempts to log into the online banking account by the technician only failed because the details were false.
Managers at Laptop Revival denied knowing about the alleged abuses of trust carried out by its technicians when confronted by Sky over the abuse.
Trade group the Technology Channels Association (formerly the Personal Computer Association) suspended Laptop Revival's membership on Wednesday, hours after the expose aired. "Sky's investigation revealed several activities that were at least reprehensible, if not criminal," TCA chief exec Keith Warburton told El Reg. "As soon as we became aware of Sky's investigation we suspended Laptop Revival. It will be given an opportunity to respond but if no adequate explanation is forthcoming Laptop Revival will be expelled from the association".
Richard Webb, an e-commerce investigator for Trading Standards, told Sky that its investigation showed that abuse of trust within the laptop repair industry in the UK might be much worse than previously thought. ®