Sky sting unmasks repair shop frauds

July 23, 2009 | 11:07

Tags: #fraud #privacy #repair #theft #trading-standards

Companies: #sky-news

As bit-tech readers, you're undoubtedly capable of repairing your own gadgets and gizmos, but spare a thought for those who aren't: a sting investigation carried out by Sky News has caught staff at five different London-based computer repair shops overcharging for non-existent faults with a laptop – and even copying private files on to USB memory sticks and attempting to access bank account details.

According to the Sky News article, the sting involved creating an easily rectifiable fault – the loosening of a memory module, which prevents the laptop from booting – but on a machine that had software which would record everything that happened with the laptop along with a snap of the engineer's face installed.

While a worrying five of the six repair shops tested overcharged for the simple fault – with PC World even claiming that a new motherboard would be required at a cost of £230 – the investigators saved the majority of their scorn for a Hammersmith company called Revival Computers.

According to Sky's Mark White, the surveillance software installed on the laptop recorded a Revival Computers technician “browsing through the files on the hard-drive, including private documents and intimate holiday photos, including some of our researcher in her bikini”” before copying files from a folder marked 'private' to a USB memory stick.

While that's pretty creepy, it gets worse: Sky claims that the engineer went on to open a text document containing usernames and passwords for Facebook, Hotmail, eBay, and a NatWest online bank account. Having found this treasure trove of digital booty, the technician then allegedly spent five minutes attempting to log in to the NatWest bank account – thwarted only by the fact that the details were false, and formed part of the sting operation.

Having been contacted with Sky's findings, an e-commerce investigator for Trading Standards, Richard Webb, stated that he was “really quite shocked, both in the range of potential problems this has revealed – people overcharging, mis-describing faults – but also [in] people attempting to steal personal details.

Claiming that the investigation reveals “a much wider problem in the industry than we knew about,” Webb believes that Trading Standards needs to look at the situation closely – and possibly even “test it like [Sky News has] done, but with a view of taking criminal enforcement action if these problems are found and evidenced.

Do you believe that Trading Standards needs to take firm action against companies which attempt to exploit non-techie-types, or does someone who keeps their banking details in an unencrypted text file deserve everything they get? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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