back to article PC repair shop caught trying bank fraud

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 …


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  1. Rob


    The amount of PC repairs I've had brought to me after they had already been to another repair place.

    The best way to clear this problem is educate the user, I always ask the user if they would like to know how to fix the problem themselves, financially bad for business but excellent for the reputation, which can in turn bring in more business so to a certain extent balances out. Generally speaking they aren't that hard to get to grips with, with most users their fear boils down to the scaremongering the industry does with it's terminology.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Where are the photos

    of the Sky researcher (in her bikini) to back this claim?

  3. Number6

    Hard Disk

    There's a lot to be said for encrypted user partitions on hard disks, except that I can see that plenty of users would then need help recovering the contents of said partitions and put it back to square one.

    I take the same approach as the MoD, once I've got a hard disk and it's got user data on, I keep it. On the offchance that a faulty machine has to go away for repair, it can have a fresh disk with a new install on it to go. However, I'm a bit more technical than Joe Public, and probably a lot more paranoid (it doesn't count if they're really trying to get me).

  4. Ben Rosenthal

    not that surprised

    I'm certainly glad I don't have to trust an unscrupulous scum bag like me with my stuff :D

  5. Anonymous Coward

    So what?

    "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".

    So bloody what? Do they think the average bloke in the street checks that the PC shop he's taking his computer into is part of this association?

    If Sky have proof that this happened, then why aren't the police involved?

    "that its investigation showed that abuse of trust within the laptop repair industry in the UK might be much worse than previously thought"

    Only previously thought by people outside the IT industry. When I had a faulty laptop I took it back, having run the rescue CD and left it with a clean Vista install (which showed the problem fine) and the shop said "But you've wiped the hard drive". I don't think they liked being told that I didn't trust them with my personal data. Would you trust most of these places, including PC World, with personal data? Seriously?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    same here

    i have been asked to recover over 27 gigs of pictures for a young female from a dying HDD

    Still having trouble recovering but from what i have i can see thumbnails being built so i dont need to check every picture !!

    As soon as i mentioned the work i was doing i was asked to upload most of the pictures

    Anon yeah well obvious really

  7. Adam Christie-Grant

    Worse than previously thought?

    Thought by whom? Certainly not me or anyone else who works in IT for a living.... I would not go to a PC repair shop no matter what.

  8. Anonymously Deflowered

    The real WTF

    It's no surprise that the data snooping occurs, and that's why whenever I've had to send my laptop for repair I've swapped the hard disk for one with a clean windows install on (or sent it back with no disk at all).

    The real WTF is that five out of six of these companies failed to find and fix the actual fault. SHAME ON THEM!

  9. jon 44

    got something important?

    encrypt it.

    firefox->master password

    documents ->truecrypt (OSS)

    Trust noone.

  10. Mike Richards Silver badge

    I'm shocked...

    ...shocked I tell you!

    Sky made a genuinely useful programme.

    Just tell me it was fronted by Ross Kemp.

  11. Tezfair

    nothing new

    I bet nearly all repair shops snoop around for the 'Gary Glitter' pot of dirt and 15 mins of fame. Funny how PCWorld never got rapped for violating his private rights (not that im saying he was innocent etc).

    I have worked in many places and its common for snooping to go on, license codes to be lifted.

    Its also why, when we send anything away thats under warranty, the drives are removed or swapped with blanks.

  12. ElNumbre

    And in other news...

    "Sky either misdiagnosed the fault or overcharged for repairs."

    That was the only sentence I extracted from that bulletin.

  13. phil 21

    surveilance 'software' ?

    was the software recoding through the built in webcam then, if sky knew that the guy called his friends over ?

  14. Anonymous John

    "He called over a colleague to view the images"

    How did the software know that? Webcam?

  15. Stu

    Thats life... see, us computer know-it-alls get ripped off and screwed over by your average car repairmen, your builders or plumbers and your personal financial adviser maybe.

    Everybody else gets ripped off / screwed over by all those above AND your average PC World, sorry "Tech Gays" lackeys.

    Definitely something to be said for doing all PC / house / car repairs yourself! Sure it means getting down and dirty with some horiffic repair manuals, but think of the savings, to your dignity that is!


    Everybody raise your pint to those who think hitting the delete key is sufficient to erase all evidence of your BDSM porn addiction!

  16. Stevie Silver badge


    So the average computer-savvy individual is no more trustworthy than Google or Phorm, and usually a damned site less so? Technicians behaving like car mechanics and bank robbers?

    Well, colour me surprised.

  17. Tom 42

    exactly why...

    I took my hard drive out of my laptop when I sent it to be repaired.

  18. EdwardP


    "He called over a colleague to view the images. "

    How do they know this? Was their software recording audio/video as well? If so then it's verging on an invasion of privicy and is almost certainly illegal.

  19. David Lester

    You just can't get the PFYs these days...

    Paging Simon Travaglia...

  20. OrientalHero


    Come on then!

    Where's the link to the bikin clad Sky lady on the beach?

  21. David Ndhlovu
    Gates Horns

    They need training

    From the BOFH and the PFY!

  22. iamapizza

    This thread is useless without photos

    Please provide us with copies of the mentioned photos so that we may ascertain whether this was reprehensible or criminal behavior and whether this warranted the suspension of said computer repair firm.

  23. Stephen Rodda


    So which was the good company?

    Although I can understand this thing occurs, I should take a very dim view if any of my engineers attempted that sort of thing.

  24. Jack 4

    Not at all surprising...

    There is a reason that I built (And learned *how* to build.) my own system, which I know how to troubleshoot and fix if need be, and a reason that I'm running Ubuntu which I can also trouble shoot and fix if need be, thus eliminating the chance of someone lifting my personal info off of it.

    I've known technicians who have worked at various repair shops, and according to them the first thing that they do when a new machine comes in, is to copy off any porn, music or movies you might be on there. [1] The ones I knew were ethical enough that they didn't record financial details, but as this report shows, there's no guarantee.

    I've also heard personally from people who worked at a particular shop in the US, (Now long out of business, fortunately.) that the owner there made a practice of going through the computer owners financial records to determine how much he could get away with charging them for repairs.

    Personally, I think that the current attitudes toward privacy on machines that have been brought in for repair are far too lax, and I'm not at all surprised that something like this has come up. In fact, I'm surprised that it's taken this long to start to hear about it.

    I feel that there really needs to be a code of conduct for these types of businesses which states that personal files and information on a machine should be *absolutely* off limits, beyond the absolute minimum needed to actually fix the machine. (Which should be zero, 99% of the time.) This should include oversight of technicians to stop the currently winked at practices of copying off interesting files, and which would yank the business license of any shops that are caught doing this, even if there's no misuse made of the information.

    [1] My own comment to them, that I was advising any friend who sent in their machine for repairs to entitle a folder, "My Girlfriend Nude" and fill it with octogenarian porn, was for some reason met with accusations that that I was in fact, "Evil Incarnate". Go figure.

  25. Rob Beard
    Paris Hilton


    Well of course the excuse is going to be that they are searching for child porn if they get caught out.

    Still naughty of them to do stuff like this.

    By the way, did El Reg get a copy of the Sky reporter photos? :-D


  26. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    I thought "Über surveillance software"...

    ...monitors behaviour of your friendly repair gorilla even if the laptop is powered down or the DIMM is unseated.

    On second reading, it becomes clear that the assorted Gnomes of the Repair Cave of Evil have to fix the machine first, then boot it up, log in, and only then they fall into the trap ... aww!

  27. Martin 6 Silver badge

    And yet..

    When these same shops 'find' porn on some celebrity's machine they are an absolutely unimpeachable chain of evidence.

  28. Ian 13

    in other news...

    ...apparently some garages rip off customers who know nothing about car maintenance and some workers at these garages are dishonest and will take cash they find lying on the floor.

  29. Robb Dunphy

    Shock horror

    And this is why anyone with a shred of sense always avoids those sorts of places, and looks to their local computer geek, or friends kids who have a clue. Since I was a kid I was the person people came to when they needed someone to check their computers.

    However you'd expect places like this, that are a member of some "official" association would have more stringent checks, especially in this day and age of data theft.

    All in all, not that surprising, but still a shock to those who just think a computer is something you get from dell to use the interweb.

  30. Joe Drunk

    Underpaid & overworked

    Considering what a PC tech makes these days it's hardly surprising - just didn't think it was that rampant. I guess it's like trying to find an auto mechanic, repairman or building contractor who's honest.

    I'm glad I'm the one who takes care of PC probs for several of my friends & relatives but I would never ever want to do this for a living. I pity those who rely on such places to solve PC problems but doesn't everyone have a friend/relative who's a PC techie these days?

  31. matt 83
    Paris Hilton

    And this is why

    You should always clone the drive of any PC brought in for repair BEFOR looking for porn etc!

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not impressed...

    Surely anyone with any technical pride would have noticed the harddrive flicking away with the stream of video it was recording and investigated as that's the kind of thing that gives away trojans.

    It would certainly attract my attention, as would anything a bit odd in the process list.

    I shall continue repairing PCs in my birthday suit, with nothing more than these nipple clamps as clothing.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    See it for yourself

    There is a video from the sky if anyone want to see that

    Here is the link:

  34. tony trolle

    @Not impressed

    nipple clamps as workware just like a grounded wrist strap

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sky's researcher a Mr Glitter said that the report had been on the shelf for about, ten years...

    Incidentally I saw this on Ch5 news last night, I thought they were ITN?

  36. Scott 19

    Go and check the stroy

    Its on the Sky news web site and the photos must of been good looking at the techie's(?) eyes. And they used the web cam to take still pictures of the offending.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Happened to me....

    ....and at an Apple store too!

    Once put my Macbook in to the local Apple store to have the keyboard replaced. When they gave it back the genius booted it and it was still in Firewire Target Disk Mode. The guy was at a complete loss to explain why anybody would have needed to use it as an external drive just to replace the keyboard (he was quite sure that backing it up would be my responsibility, not theirs) and the 'genius' who actually worked on the laptop refused to come and speak to me and explain himself.

    Fortunately I'm the paranoid type and had completely rebuilt the thing before putting it in for repair so all he got was a fresh Leopard install and some awkward questions.

  38. Shingo Tamai

    Gentlemen you are missing the big picture here.

    It is not about shops not being able to diagnose the problem, is about fraud and privacy infringement.

    One of the shops after pushing the memory module back on the laptop called offering a motherboard replacement. Then the offer was refused, they short SOLDERED some memory pins together to replicate the fault.

    Problem is that the source used for this article is not a good one.


  39. blackworx

    Goes both ways

    I've had people bring me their PC to fix after having been ripped off by one or other of the local "pros" at prices which usually run well into three figures for the privilege of not repairing anything, cracking the case (if it's a laptop) and stealing a few screws.

    At the same time the queue of gringos who want you to "take a look" at their machine because "it's running a bit slow" and "doesn't work properly" and they think it "might" have a virus, never gets any smaller. The one thing they're always fucking sure about however is that it's just a five minute job and that you'll to do it for the price of a couple of beers (if you're lucky).

  40. Michael Dunn


    Oh, dear! Codes of conduct! It's just because the financial services industry is governed by codes of conduct and guide lines rather than laws that bite, that the world is in the state it's in now.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Repair chimps

    As other have said, before handing your PC to a service centre of any kind, make sure there's nothing on it at all.

    As for the chimps, if they were in any way knowledgable, they'd have booted from the portable Linux distro of choice before looking at the drive thus avoiding any spyware/surveilance measures. Pah! Amateurs!

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Repair shops

    Even if they didn't systematically steal everyone's data, I still wouldn't pay the kind of prices they're asking for the kind of work they usually have to do.

    Then again I know my way around the inside of a computer.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Gentlemen you are missing the big picture.

    This is not about incompetent shops, it's about frauds.

    One of the shops spotted immediately what the problem was and soldered pins on the memory slot together in order to replicate the fault after the "customer" refused to go on with a "motherboard replacement".

    Point is that the article this The Register story is incomplete, there is another article with a lot more details also on the kind of software used, just google for:

    "PC repair shops that rifle through your photos and passwords"

  44. Stuart Halliday

    Don't Tar all of us please

    Hmm doesn't appear to be many actual IT repair business here.

    I as a sole trader repairing computers and provide training, etc. and I must say I provide a 100% confidential service. I wouldn't think of searching a customers computer.

    I suspect all these people are less-than adequately trained or empowered (I hesitate to use the word 'engineers'). There _has_ to be a strong element of trust between the customer and the engineer.

    Sure I've came across things in my 20 years experience. But I don't go around telling people about it!

    The IT industry is still young. I believe it needs to develop a similar level of agreement as Lawyers and Doctors have with their customers. It may develop this trust in time. But it's a long way away if this story is to be believed.

    Look up the Shark News site if you want juicy stories of custards. You'll find none from professionals like me.

  45. Medium Dave


    I often copy customer's data when I don't need to...

    Not because I want to go rummaging through it - 20 years in sys admin roles has made me immune to that - but for those occasions when they phone up a month later and say "Help! I've just deleted the photos of cousin Maude's wedding! What can I do?"

    For the cost of a few gig of disk space, you can acquire the reputation of a minor bearded deity. Otherwise, the data just sits around in an encrypted tarball until I need the space...

    I do make a point to tell the customer, though, and delete it on the spot if they don't want it.

  46. elderlybloke

    I am lucky

    my repair man is too busy to bother with wasting his time on searching for tit-bits or just tits on my computer.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Come on guys.....

    How many of you can *honestly* say if you had a laptop in front of you belonging to a young woman and found a folder marked private that you wouldn't sneak a look?

    The rest of the stuff is the real issue and Im not in any way condoning that but the looking through photos is simple red blooded male syndrome!

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