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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."
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Undercover Cameras Catch PC Repair Scams, Privacy Violations

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  • by pjt33 ( 739471 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:25PM (#28783237)

    While the stuff all the reports are picking up on is certainly not good, the most shocking bit is near the end of the article:

    Meanwhile, at Evnova Computers in Barbican the loose memory chip was also spotted and fixed. But the company also told us we needed a new motherboard. We declined the offer and collected our laptop. When we examined it, we discovered technicians had soldered the memory bus pins together to recreate the original fault. Evnova later claimed it believed we were from a rival repair company.

    So they catch onto the fact that it's not a genuine customer and they think that a bit of criminal damage is the best thing to do?

  • PC Repair Scams (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reason58 ( 775044 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:26PM (#28783249)
    You mean to tell me the kind of shop that would charge $50 to install a stick of RAM [] might behave in a less than ethical manner? NO!
  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:34PM (#28783365)

    I upgraded my system to 1GB of RAM which it recognized properly. But after using it for about 3 weeks, I got a "PCI.SYS is corrupt or missing" error on boot.

    When I called my support folks, I was told that I would need to either replace the motherboard or reinstall Windows XP. These are folks I had told what I had done to the system including the RAM upgrade. In any case, I would have had to spend in excess of US$220!

    What I did was to remove the "offending" RAM and everything was good as normal.

    My question though is why would the system work for three weeks before throwing the PCI.SYS error?

  • by jorghis ( 1000092 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:36PM (#28783381)

    +5 Gullible. :) It is very unlikely that they realized it wasnt a legit customer. If they had realized they were being watched they probably would have been on their best behaviour. That sounds more like an excuse than anything. More likely is that they were afraid the customer would go someplace else and get it fixed without needing a new motherboard thus discovering that Evnova's advice was bad. So they broke the motherboard on purpose to make their claim that a new motherboard was needed more credible and likely to be confirmed by the next shop.

  • by davegravy ( 1019182 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:38PM (#28783419)

    IMHO, introduction to PC anatomy and troubleshooting should be mandatory in the high school curriculum in today's day and age, and would go a long way to mitigating the problem.

  • Re:!surprising (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:40PM (#28783457) Homepage

    The problem of course being that people who take their computers to repair shops almost certainly lack the technical chops to be putting in a blank drive, and aren't going to have a spare blank drive even if they technically knew how. Besides, sometimes the services they provide are things like installing device drivers, cleaning up spyware, etc. - the sorts of thing which requires the affected drive to be in place.

    Anecdotally, the first laptop I ever owned was a Dell, and I had to send it in for service after it was damaged in a car accident. They did not require, but strongly recommended that I remove the drive before sending it to them. This was to safeguard both parties - they didn't want to have to even deal with the possibility that their technicians might do something unscrupulous (and were happy to have the indemnity that comes from them not even having the access to do so), but also protects the drive against damage from shipping (even if the parts are insured, the data is not).

  • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Renraku ( 518261 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:42PM (#28783485) Homepage

    If they were being paid a decent wage, maybe they'd actually care about their jobs. Or, God forbid, take a little pride in it. Substandard pay will get you substandard workers. Even in this shitty economy we're in, there's no free lunch when it comes to the wage-worthiness continuum.

  • Not just in UK. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:48PM (#28783563)

    Just an example of in this case images copied from a laptop that was taken for repair. For anyone living in Hong Kong or following Cantopop, just think "Edison Chen". You will know what I'm talking about, it has been all over the media for a long long time.

    For the rest of us: this is a famous singer/actor/etc around here. He took his laptop for repair once, and a year or so ago photos of him having sex with female stars started to appear on the Internet. Copied off of his laptop by the repairman who started snooping around the data on the hard disk after the repairs were finished. This repairman has got a jail term for that, by the way. And it all ballooned in the biggest entertainment story of cantopop in 2008, and probably the biggest in cantopop history.

    For links: just search for "edison chen" on google. The first top-100 or so are about this scandal.

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

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:49PM (#28783593)

    Much of western economic success is predicated on trust.

    When people exploit trust, bad shit happens (see 2008). When trust doesn't exist, it is much more difficult to trade. Trade is good. Thus shitting on trust is a big deal.

    And please don't pigeonhole me into 'all trade is good', I am talking about beneficial trade between two parties (with minimal externalities). Or does everyone want to grow their own food?

  • Re:Big deal (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:53PM (#28783639)

    Which proves a point. If you are pouring over the grand am manual, you ain't fixing the car.

    You need to be looking at the Manufacturer Repair manual set, and that's only if you cant spot and fix it without the manual like most competent techs do.

    It's just education and aptitude, I've forgotten more about cars, electronics, and computers than most people have learned in their lifetime. but I put education as a priority, so I spend most of my time learning.

    Computers are far more complex than any car. Cars motorcycles and engines are incredibly simple compared to a computer. Yes even the new crap with VVT and hybrid technology. Internal combustion and Mechanics are dog simple.

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

    by ls671 ( 1122017 ) * on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:57PM (#28783721) Homepage

    Well, I tell people that I am outdated with regards to fixing computers, I used to do it when I started to play with computers but now the time I would spend fixing my aunt virus infected computer would make me loose too much money compared to spending that time on my regular work.

    So maybe competent people do not want to do this kind of work, I don't anyway...

    They have stopped to call me since a while and this is a good thing, charging them more than the price of the computer to fix it wouldn't fly and that is what it costs me in lost income ;-))

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:00PM (#28783763) Homepage


    Broke 2 new Oxygen sensors to sell my wife, replacements at the tune of $380.00 each. They cost $45.90 at autozone for the real AC delco ones.

    I know they were good, they were just replaced and marked, the ones he showed me someone took a torch to. He magically changed his tune when I told my wife to call the cops right then and there. 99% of people dont know anything about a car, they love this.

    Never EVER trust a mechanic unless you found an honest one.

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:04PM (#28783825) Homepage
    We needed a memory upgrade from 512M to 2G to run Adobe Illustrator. So I call the computer market to send over a guy to do the job. Screw it, I'm not touching computer parts if I can help it. The computer guy comes over, replaces the motherboard/CPU and puts new RAM in. I see him put only 1 stick in, which concerns me. Computer boots up fine, he wants to leave. I say, hold on there Tex, let's make sure this works. I check the POST screen and it reports 1G memory. I tell this to the guy in Chinese. "Hey, you forgot to bring one of the RAM sticks, there's only 1G in here." He says, (jedi hand wave) no, there is 2G RAM in the machine. I say, no look here, it's reporting only 1G, you have to go back and get the other stick of RAM. He says, (jedi hand wave) no, the video card is taking up the extra space. At this point I get angry and show him where the BIOS reports 128M for the video card. He says he'll come back tomorrow with the other stick.

    I wonder how many times he got away with this, taking the extra cash for himself. I reported the scam to his boss, but the boss wasn't very excited about it. He was probably in on the scam, too. Heck, it was probably his idea. Most office customers wouldn't know 2G RAM from a RAID array. Just another example of the sort of automatic fraud from vendors that you have to constantly be aware of in China (and elsewhere).

  • Re:Big deal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JustOK ( 667959 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:05PM (#28783847) Journal

    Perhaps if you stopped forgetting things, you wouldn't have to learn as much.

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

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:08PM (#28783895)
    Hold on a second there. I'm an independent repairer (non-shady one) and my main problem with all the "official" ones like Geek Squad is they're a little reinstall happy. Unless system files are missing or damaged, I never reinstall windows. It's not that hard to automatically then manually remove any trace of incompatible software or any malware. Their big thing is that it'd take 4 hours of labor to fix the problem or 3 to reinstall windows and back up all their data first. I charge so little for labor that it doesn't really matter and then they get to keep all their software instead of spending a week reinstalling everything, half of which they lost the discs for.
    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.
  • Re:Surprising? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by techess ( 1322623 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:16PM (#28784037)

    I think you have an excellent point. I've been involved with the hiring process of the IT people I work with (an even our current IT manager). I tend to choose those that seem honest in the interview. The HR/non-techs tend to be impressed by the "big talkers". When we talk after the people I rate the highest they usually rate the lowest and vice versa.

    We do a Q/A interview first and then we do a hands on interview where we make them show that they can do all the stuff they listed in their resume or said they could do in the Q/A portion. It is amazing the amount of lies people tell in an interview (and not just exaggeration, but blatant lies about their skills). People who are honest in their interview have, in our experience, been honest employees.

    Most people can be taught to do low end "geek squad" style tech support, but you can't teach someone to be honest. It isn't based on pay either. Someone who will cheat and steal in a $7/hr job will do the same if they are making $30.

  • This is true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:24PM (#28784181)

    It is something Costco has discovered: They have less shrinkage (theft) than normal. Why? They pay their employees well and have good benefits. Thus while it doesn't mean nobody ever steals from them, it means it happens less than at similar stores. The reason is threefold:

    1) People like and care about their job more because it pays well, and thus don't want to do things that might mess it up. So even if they are somewhat morally dubious, they may elect not to risk their job.

    2) Their employees have more money and thus less incentive to steal. When you are flat broke, theft can seem like a good option. When you can afford what you want, it isn't as attractive.

    3) They have more goodwill towards their employer. They feel like their employer cares about them so they care about their employer. Most people have a much easier time screwing someone over if they don't know them or dislike them.

    It really DOES seem to work. Also, it tends to reduce turnover. With minimum wage, you have an extremely high turnover rate. People come and go all the time. As you increase pay, you increase the amount of time people will stay with you. The reason this matters to an employer is that it costs money to train new employees. Even on menial jobs, you don't walk in and have 100% efficiency on day one. This applies even if you've done similar work before. Every setup is different, it takes time to train up people.

    Again something Costco has discovered. The interesting thing is that the two factors (lower theft and turnover) seem to add up for them and largely offset the higher costs for employees. Yes, they pay out more, but it reduces other costs and thus doesn't end up hitting the bottom line as much as you might first expect.

  • by dakkon1024 ( 691790 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:25PM (#28784191)
    What kills me is that in the article they state they picked the worst shops w/ bad reputations. Well duh there gonna be bad, how is this even news? You don't see to many food critics review places they know are awful? Better, would you read an article about how prision imates tend to commit crimes?
  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:26PM (#28784213) Homepage Journal

    You could apply the same logic to medical conditions, and in fact that's what a lot of NHS doctors do:

    1. Look at symptoms
    2. Try most likely treatment
    3. If not cured, repeat with progressively less likely treatments
    3. Cured!

    Where I work, the way we justify spending time diagnosing a fault and fixing it without a wipe+reinstall is that it's less trouble for the customer. Particularly for business customers it's important to be able to get up and running, with all their software/email/settings/etc intact ASAP. You need to be an above plankton level technician to do that, and the amount of repeat business we get suggests that people value what we do.

  • In their defense... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:51PM (#28784637) Journal
    While not excusing the criminal behavior, I love it when people create a problem that just doesn't ever happen in the real world then point to the techs for being dumb. What I mean is, I've seen memory modules go bad, but I've NEVER seen memory modules work themselves out of a slot. They click in there and stay. I've seen monitor power cords work themselves out, memory chips go bad, but never a memory module. Another repair tech expose took an old PATA ribbon cable and cut some wires. That wasn't a real test either. PATA cables are not a wear item. If they do go bad, it is a result of recent handling and is detected immediately. While you know the problem, the techs have the opposite problem - their experience works against them. So when simulating an error, please make it plausible.
  • by Runefox ( 905204 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @01:53PM (#28784667) Homepage

    The CBC did a documentary called "Getting Gouged by Geeks" of precisely the same thing, with almost precisely the same fault - Instead of loosening the chip, the module itself was blown in such a way that the computer didn't power on. Unfortunately, CBC had high standards - even one guy who had figured it out, and honestly fixed it, was considered to be "gouging" because he only had a larger module than what needed replacing - Let's not even mention that they expected him to do a house call for free and give them a memory module for the going price online. There were plenty of examples of others who weren't so legit, though.

    You can see it here []. Interestingly, Slashdot [] ran a story on it.

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

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:01PM (#28784801) Journal

    The really sad part is why they will never bust the shops for it here in the USA. Child porn. How many times have you read about some perv sends his PC to Worst Buy and gets busted for child porn? Want to know why they always get busted for it?

    Because half the guys at these shops, and I'd say a good 85% of the ones working at worst buy from what I've been told by guys that worked there, carry USB HDDs with batch files set up to scour PCs for *.jpg, *.avi, etc. While some are looking for cc in info as well nearly all of them are looking for vids pics and tunes to rip off. That is why I run my own little shop. Doesn't pay as well, but I don't feel like a sleazebag either. Did any of my customers have child porn? I wouldn't know, because I only go to the desktop and Windows folder. I also warn my customers beforehand if there is something they wouldn't their grandma to see in there don't ask me to back up My Documents, since I will be seeing all the file names if I run a backup. So the worst I've had to deal with is some girl who liked to take pics of herself with her webcam and couldn't get the PC to boot to desktop. Do I have copies? Nope, wasn't none of my business so I didn't look at them. She simply told me beforehand after I gave her my granny speech.

    But as long as the sleazebags working at places like Worst Buy call the cops whenever they find any child porn nobody will ever bust them. Cops don't bust good snitches, even when the snitch is doing illegal activity like looking for cc info and other stuff to steal. Best Buy corporate? Not going to bust them as long as they are willing to work for those shitty wages. So sadly while I don't know how it is in the UK, here the sleazebags will be able to do whatever they want as long as they throw the cops a bone once in awhile. Me? It ain't my job to prowl through somebodies PC looking for stuff to steal or snitch on, so I don't. I may have to work a little harder for me pay but at least I don't feel like a sleazebag.

  • Re:Surprising? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:21PM (#28785131)

    Sorry, I didn't know employers had to pay extra for morals. In this economy, you can toss out a substandard employee and replace with a good one for no more pay.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gilmoure ( 18428 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:47PM (#28785505) Journal

    Working as a desktop computer tech for the last 18 years, yeah, you do get to see a lot of cool stuff. About the coolest was a pallet of used machines from an ad agency. We used them as parts for our mom-n-pop repair place I worked at. I had the job of going through all of them and seeing what would boot, etc. Found a CD in one, full of next two year's Chevrolet designs. I'm a car buff and hadn't seen too much in the mags yet. Really tempted to share that info but ended up contacting the company. They just said to destroy the disk. Didn't seem too concerned. Weird!

    Now, working at a small college doing tech support, students these days have no shame. It's all out on the desktop. Pretty wild.

    With all the exposure to personal info, I wonder when computer techs will be held to confidentiality standards like doctors, lawyers, and accountants? Will we have to wear ties?

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HeronBlademaster ( 1079477 ) <> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:11PM (#28785881) Homepage

    Once, I took my car to a dealer in for general maintenance at my dad's request (he owned the car), then went shopping while I waited. The tech called me on my cell saying "um... you'd better come look at this." Turns out all sorts of fun things were breaking (i.e. visible cracks, missing bearings, leaks, broken engine brackets, etc.). Oh, and it was going to cost $3000. Some expert haggling by my dad over the phone got the price down to a more palatable $2000.

    So no, they weren't lying, but they wanted to charge an arm and a leg, and we had to twist their arms to get them to be reasonable.

    Another time, I took in the same car (via a tow truck) to another dealer because it refused to start. I was told they needed to replace the entire electrical system of the car, and that it would cost $800. I asked if there was another way to get the car working cheaper, even temporarily, and I was told "No".

    Well I wanted a second opinion, so I had another tow truck take my car back home. The tow truck driver, upon hearing why I wasn't having the dealership repair the car, said he'd take a look when we got to my apartment. The verdict?

    "Replace this wire here, and get a new clamp for this wire here. Clean the terminals, then reattach the wires. Should run you like $25, and you'll be good as new."

    The car works fine, a year later.

    So you'll forgive us if we're wary of dealerships.

  • Re:Surprising? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by level_headed_midwest ( 888889 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:15PM (#28785955)

    Oh, I got tips from gracious girls in college after helping them with computers. Many of those girls would go up to the professor with the whole "oh, I'm just a dumb little girl, please help me with the material" schtick and wangle a bunch of exam/assignment information out of them in the process. If I ever got stuck on an assignment or wanted to know what to study for the exam, they were more than willing to tell me since I'd been nice and fixed their machines. Not all favors from women have to be of the Penthouse Letters variety, you know.

  • Re:Surprising? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HeronBlademaster ( 1079477 ) <> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:46PM (#28786411) Homepage

    Agreed. My first programming job was part-time; I was hired at $10/hr, and I had to practically demand a raise to $12/hr in a lengthy e-mail in which I pointed out all the valuable things I had already contributed to the company.

    Several months later he told us to tell our friends he was looking to hire entry-level peons (who would do less work than we were currently doing) and that they'd start at $12/hr.

    We definitely got the "I don't respect you" vibe from that.

    No, wages did not dictate my behavior in the company, but they definitely affected how I perceived my employer.

  • Pr0n WAS my pay! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by boristdog ( 133725 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:49PM (#28786473)

    Co-workers used to always bring in their home computers for me to fix (for free), because as the database and web guy, I "knew" computers.

    So I always did searches for *.jpg on their machines. It's interesting to see the pr0n preferences of your co-workers. Some of the people you would least suspect have some of the most extensive and unusual pr0n collections.

    Plus I managed to snag some good co-worker, girlfriend & wife porn as well. It's astounding how clueless people are about the visibility of "secret" files on their computers.

  • Re:Halfway Competent (Score:1, Interesting)

    by plague3106 ( 71849 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @03:54PM (#28786541)

    So no, they weren't lying, but they wanted to charge an arm and a leg, and we had to twist their arms to get them to be reasonable.

    Um, that's how capitalism works... you charge what you can get people to pay. Also, without knowing the details of the haggling, its very well that the manufacturer was dictating to the dealer many aspects of the repair. This is especially true if any warranty work is involved. For all we know, your dad got them to get 3rd party parts which will save money up front, but may or may not be worth it in the end. For example, the "same" brakes I got at Midas lasted only a few months, and caused a hell of a squeeling sound while they were installed. Brakes from the dealer are quite a bit more, but they last a bit over a year of heavy driving and keep the car silent.

    You're judging all mechanics by the actions of one brand's dealer in a few cases; I would argue that may point to a problem in general with the brand more than mechanics. Also, why would anyone go to the first place they found without shopping around for prices if repairs are going to be in the thousands of dollars?

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford