The reputation of the UK's computer repair industry took another hammering last week following a BBC Watchdog investigation into two Worcestershire-based computer repair firms.
The flagship consumer affairs programme looked into Click 4 PC and Click Computers in response to reports from viewers about missing personal data, botched repairs and a computer being held to ransom. The subsequent investigation into Click 4 PC exposed dubious practices including false diagnosis of faults, alleged supply of illegal software and passing off used equipment as being new.
During secret filming of a PC repair callout to Click 4 PC, the customer was supplied with a second-hand hard drive containing other people's data, after agreeing to pay for a new replacement drives. The diagnosis that the hard drive had failed was incorrect yet the victim was charged £200 for the supply of a second-hand hard drive.
Data on the hard drive appeared to have originated from a residential care home for young adults that contained medical records. BBC investigators returned the data to the relevant care home.
The Watchdog investigation also had an undercover reporter look for a job with Click Computers of Birmingham as a field repair engineer. The show reveals the reporter being told it was a sales job, and schooled on various hard sales techniques – including being told to charge a minimum of £120. The consumer interests' show also revealed that Click Computers had used false addresses all over the UK in order to make the claim that it had local offices throughout Britain.
In reality Click 4 PC and Click Computers are owned and run by brothers Yassar and Amir Rashid.
UK viewers can watch a segment of BBC Watchdog covering its investigation (in three segments between the 10-17, 30-40 and the 49-57 minute marks) here.
In 2009, a Sky investigation exposed overcharging and, worse still, an attempt by one worker to use personal data left on a PC to access a dummy electronic banking account. Computer repair technicians also viewed private photos, and surveillance technology was found to be rigged into the PC submitted for repair to Laptop Revival in Hammersmith, West London.
And last year, a US PC repair technician was charged with planting spyware on the machines of clients as part of a seedy scheme designed to capture pictures of them in various states of undress.
Jat Mann, founder and managing director of the UK computer repair and support franchise organisation PC PAL, said that the Watchdog investigation highlighted the sort of bad experiences with rogue computer repair firms that prompted him to start his business. Mann said PC PAL employed only "Microsoft and CompTIA qualified engineers who have also been CRB vetted" as field engineers. "All customers are briefed on our charges before the engineer sets foot inside a customer's home," he added.
The computer repair and support industry is, at present, totally unregulated – meaning that anyone can set themselves up in the business. "I would be a strong advocate of this [PC Repair] industry having some kind of regulatory body behind it, as it is only getting more crucial that people have access to properly qualified and ethical people to handle these types of problems," Mann said. "With the government's race to get everyone online should also come the realisation that it is spawning a cowboy industry which can do a lot of damage if left to proliferate as it is currently." ®