Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Privacy News

Undercover Cameras Catch PC Repair Scams, Privacy Violations 665

Barence writes "With help from readers of PC Pro, Sky News in the UK launched an undercover investigation into rogue PC repair shops. As a result, Sky's cameras caught technicians scouring through private photos, stealing passwords and over-charging for basic repairs. It was a simple enough job: 'To create the fault, we simply loosened one of the memory chips so Windows wouldn't load. To get things working again, one needs only push the chip back into the slot and reboot the machine. Any half-way competent engineers should fix it in minutes.' But these technicians had other ideas, stealing photos and documents, as well as login details for email and bank accounts."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Undercover Cameras Catch PC Repair Scams, Privacy Violations

Comments Filter:
  • Other companies (Score:4, Informative)

    by Demonantis ( 1340557 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:27PM (#28783259)
    I know HP does it. I don't know of anyone else, but they tell you not to send the hard drive in with your computer for warranty items. I myself would want to stand there while the technician fixed it. I don't let contractors into my house when I'm not there and this is the exact same thing.
  • Well.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by SGDarkKnight ( 253157 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:32PM (#28783325)

    Too bad there are companies like this out there, when i stopped working for a PC repair shop (espically when i stopped doing alot of repair work on the side), I had alot of my old customers ask me if they should keep taking their systems back to the same shop, or to another shop. The best advice i could give them for hardware related problems was to tell whoever was fixing the systems, that they wanted any original hardware returned to them.

    Software, always been a problem... anything you store on your systems is fair game to whoever is fixing it. The best advice i was able to give to my old customers for their sensitive information was not to store it on the computer at all. Pick up a couple thumb drives and store any documents, passwords, etc... on those drives to keep it seperate.

    Im sure there are more of us out there that have given the same advice.

  • Re:Steal passwords (Score:5, Informative)

    by goobermaster ( 1263770 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:35PM (#28783379)

    Probably saved passwords in Firefox or whatever equivalent they were using. If you are not using a master password, one can just hit 'show passwords' to get em all.

    Since most people don't like typing their passwords in each time, if someone has used a particular browser for a long time, it can be a goldmine of access info and details.

  • Re:Steal passwords (Score:5, Informative)

    by HBI ( 604924 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:38PM (#28783415) Journal


    Tools->Options->Security->Saved Passwords->Show Passwords

    This is only a trivial example.

  • Re:Steal passwords (Score:5, Informative)

    by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:40PM (#28783449)

    Not quite from the article, but from an article linked to by it at the bottom of the story:

    "...Inside one of the documents copied to the memory stick was a text file containing passwords for Facebook, Hotmail, eBay and a NatWest bank account.

    Once the technician had discovered this information, he opened a web browser on the laptop and attempted to log into the back account for around five minutes.

    The only reason he was unsuccessful was because the details were fake....."

  • Not very surprising (Score:2, Informative)

    by goobermaster ( 1263770 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:45PM (#28783541)

    Most of these technician services are quite dodgy. For every one that offers honest service at a fair price, there are a hundred like the above, or like Geek Squad.

    Here are some choice bits:
    Set up a wireless router with encryption (=WEP, probably) = $150
    Securely add another device to the above (=type in pass.) = $90
    OS Upgrade and Update (=install Win and run wind. update) = $90
    Data transfer up to 9.4 GB (=burn two prol. cheapo DVD-R) = $60
    Online console setup (=config router for 360 to get Live) = $150

    It is ridiculous that this is the state of the market - unqualified techs charging enormous amounts of money for trivial tasks. I realize that there are some honest, upstanding people in these companies, but the mass of those who are not drown the out. It is sad really, as I know some very qualified people who run a very honest and fairly priced business doing support/repairs, but they are bypassed by uninformed users who run to Geek Squad because 'at these prices you must be doing something dodgy'.

  • by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:48PM (#28783581) Homepage

    If it's a RAM problem, and there's no way to tell in this case without further testing, it can manifest itself in all kinds of unusual ways. Random errors like this can happen. Instant reboots can happen, blue screens, general failures to boot, corrupted data, etc.

    Easy enough to take the chip out and test it in a known-good computer using memtest, though.

    Motherboard RAM-handling issues can sometimes pop up as well, especially if that particular RAM is the straw that broke the camel's back and overloads your power supply. If the port or controller is damaged, it can look similar to wonky RAM.

    Of course, we all know that Windows is perfectly stable, too.

    Either of those options they gave could possibly be correct. There's no way to tell without troubleshooting, though.

  • Re:PC Repair Scams (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:55PM (#28783679)
    Ok, how many times has that happened that they actually fixed?

    The one time I used Geek Squad it was with this all-in one PC (think of it as a PC iMac, the only reason I really used them is because I had no experience with all-in-ones and there was no easy way of taking the case off that I thought would go back together nicely (it was all plastic you had to snap apart) add with that a lost instruction manual and I had something I really didn't feel comfortable taking apart. Long story short they manged to break the case, didn't acknowledge that they broke it, than about a week later the motherboard died (the original problem was faulty RAM). They denied any involvement with it. Since then I haven't used Geek Squad. My favorite is how they tried to get me to pay $20 to install a PCI wireless card, I think plugging a cartridge into a SNES is harder than installing a PCI card.
  • by joelmax ( 1445613 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:59PM (#28783759) Journal
    The webcam would have only caught actions done while the system is running. In order to fix the issue, the memory had to be reseated, so, if they did that and it booted, then all the webcam should have caught is the initial bootup to verify it is working, maybe launch a website as a test. However, it caught something more than that. They are basing the issue resolution based off when the system was shut down, when they took it in, and when it successfully booted teh first time after sending it in it seems, so that part tells us the issue was quickly resolved. Then, once issue resolution was confirmed, the webcam caught the company red handed.
  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheCycoONE ( 913189 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:03PM (#28783819)

    But the article mentions a sample bias. They asked readers what the worst PC Repair shops were before they investigated.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Satanboy ( 253169 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:17PM (#28784045)

    [blockquote]Oh and you're not a very good repairer if you're just guessing at parts. If you can't tell the difference between a broken power supply, motherboard, or ram then you don't know what you're doing[/blockquote]

    I don't know, there are funky things that can happen.

    For instance, I had a machine that would randomly reboot, windows error messaging pointed to a chipset failure. So, I swapped ram, but the machine kept rebooting, so I swapped processor. This didn't fix the issue so i tried a new motherboard, the pc still kept rebooting. I decided to go ahead and pull the mobo from the chasis and run it on a cardboard box before replacing any more parts. I turned the mobo on with a screw driver. The computer never rebooted and ran flawlessly. I put it back in the case and it began rebooting again. I disconnected the power switch wire. It didn't exhibit this problem. I found out after all that work, it was a faulty power switch!

    Sometimes you just can't tell by the symptoms what the problem is, and even following reasonable troubleshooting steps you sometimes just waste time.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:2, Informative)

    by algerath ( 955721 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:18PM (#28784069)
    You RTFA. They selected the shops with the worst reputations to try this at, of course the bad shops will outnumber the good shops when you seek out the worst shops for your test.
  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:3, Informative)

    by z80kid ( 711852 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:21PM (#28784131)
    Low brake fluid shouldn't cause a vibrating tire either.

    I'm guessing that he pulled the tire off the rim to patch it from the inside. When he put the tire back on the rim, he balanced [] it. That's what stopped the vibration.

    If the brake fluid was low enough to screw with the ABS unit, then you needed more than a tip off. You needed the brakes bled.

  • Re:Big deal (Score:5, Informative)

    by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:24PM (#28784173)

    I have to completely disagree here with computers being more complex than cars for repairs. Realistically there are a handful of components on a computer that you ever need to deal with. In a weeks course you could teach someone with any sort of aptitude towards eletronics how to fix 99.9% of issues, because in the end its find out what's not working as you think it should, open a box and snap in the new part. Compare that to a car where you may need to diagonose things such as cylinder compression, belt timing, rebuild transmissions, and scores of other things. We're not talking Jiffy Lube stuff, but actual repairs and tuning. There's no comparison when it comes to the amount of knowledge aquired.

    Don't compare computer design and manufacturing with repairing.

  • by lukas84 ( 912874 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:28PM (#28784247) Homepage

    I'm sorry, i don't see anything wrong with those prices. We charge hourly, and not per specific work done, but i can't see my company being cheaper than those prices, especially if you consider the enormous expense of actually driving to the customers location.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:5, Informative)

    by berzerke ( 319205 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:36PM (#28784363) Homepage

    ...why would someone qualified for a profession who can earn upwards of $100,000 per year, work in PC repair...

    Because those $100K jobs are few and far between and usually go to people with connections. Don't believe those salary surveys. Those that have great paying jobs are easy to find. Those that have given up on engineering because they can't get a job or have low paying jobs are generally not as easy to find and therefore excluded from the surveys. Result: Surveys don't represent reality.

    How do I know this? I have a master's degree in chemical engineering plus my state EIT (Engineer In Training) cert, but have been working in the computer field since 1997. I got laid off and couldn't get another engineering job. I spent 3 years trying. I've since quit the engineering profession. I have made more as a computer tech than I did as an engineer. I've got a neighbor who has a BS in chemical engineering, and his experience mirrors mine. He does not want his kids going into engineering. Even when I was working as an engineer, my coworkers would often gather and read the salary surveys and laugh at them.

  • Re:Steal passwords (Score:3, Informative)

    by ScytheBlade1 ( 772156 ) <`scytheblade1' `at' `'> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:22PM (#28785143) Homepage Journal

    Ah yes. That feature.

    A friend (an Opera fan) of mine found that some time ago, and promptly informed me (died of laughter) that because anyone can sit down and get his passwords, Firefox was of questionable quality ('it sucks').

    I then pointed out the whole Edit --> Preferences (for windows, Tools --> Options) --> Security --> "Use a master password" checkbox. When using this, the passwords it stores are properly encrypted and cannot be used by anything without providing a password you select. Not by a website, not by the saved password manager.

    Not that I'd expect anyone who didn't know what this was to go digging through the options under the security section anyway, but it should be mentioned.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:2, Informative)

    by frosty_tsm ( 933163 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:37PM (#28785369)
    There are a number of potential causes that a half-competent tire shop will fix simply by replacing a tire (following normal procedures):

    - Needs balancing
    - Lugnuts aren't on tight or are on unevenly (sometimes caused by a broken stem, but that requires a $3 part)
    - Tire is worn horribly unevenly or has lumps

    As the others said: you need to learn about cars.
  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:3, Informative)

    by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:49PM (#28785533)

    You're definitely right here which is why I took every opportunity I could to make those connections and guess what? Now I'm making what the surveys say I should be making. It was definitely frustrating for the longest time because I never accepted help from people always preferring to do it myself. Then somewhere along the line a pretty lady came into my life and made me realize that asking for or accepting help doesn't make you weak and it often makes the other person feel good. This is like going to the owner's house to fix a DR server and accepting a drink when he offers even if you don't want one. It makes him feel more comfortable and then you get to make the connections to people.

    Sometimes those connections mean you have to help people when you're swamped but ultimately they do indeed pay off. Of course as always you wanna play to your audience. The owner of a company I worked for was what I consider a redneck so you dress down when you want to hammer out strategy and dress up when you want to write the big checks. Works everytime as he associated well dressed people with authority and casual dressed people with friends.

    I went to a tech school to get that piece of paper, they gave me a bs in 2 years so I was all about it even if it meant school all year round. Almost everyone I studied with was an engineer of some form, ironically chemical engineering was the most common.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:3, Informative)

    by yachius ( 1348219 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:22PM (#28786059) Homepage
    Plenty of old cars shared a reservoir for the brake and power steering fluids.
  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:3, Informative)

    by NickDngr ( 561211 ) * on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:38PM (#28786287) Journal

    Just to be clear, there is no such thing as a "brake/steering" fluid system in your car. It's either brake fluid or steering fluid - these are two separate systems with separate reservoirs and separate fluids.

    Some vehicles (including my Chevy Astro) use the power steering pump for the power assist brakes. Most vehicles use vacuum for power assist, but not all. I found this out the hard way when my power steering pump died. I couldn't brake or steer. Luckily, I was parked when it died. There is still a separate reservoir for brake fluid. I think the OP was confused about what fluid was being replenished.

  • Re:PC Repair Scams (Score:4, Informative)

    by Barny ( 103770 ) <> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @07:32PM (#28789597) Journal

    Ahh the crux of the matter :) (aside from the WGA jibe)

    The point is that a tech had to allocate desk time (at least where I work, we charge for desk time, not the techs time, since the tech will be back and fourth between about 4 computers constantly) to fixing this, not to mention finding a deliberately sabotaged component (and sabotaged in a way that is NOT A COMMON FAULT) then testing to see if windows was harmed by the faulty part (usually if a machine runs for a while with memory errors it will corrupt at least a handful of windows files if you are lucky, the registry if your not).

    How this diagnosis would go at my pc shop...

    1, try booting
    2, try booting linux live CD
    3, open case, find loose ram
    4, try booting windows again
    5, boot from a windows CD and do at least 3 chkdsk (at least get 2 clean scans)
    6, run prime95 on it overnight to make sure its all happy
    6.5 if at any time a prime95 pass fails or windows doesn't boot, load windows CD and do windows repair for XP or SFC for Vista, if it still fails, load linux CD and dupe data to NAS in preparation for reinstall (we do this regardless of if the customer asks us to, the amount of times we get asked after a "wipe-reinstall" if their email is still there...)
    7, charge customer $99AU for the fault.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan