Exposed: Repair Shops Hack Your Laptops

Some computer repair shops are illegally accessing personal data on customers' hard drives — and even trying to hack their bank accounts, a Sky News investigation has found.

In one case, passwords, log-in details and vacation photographs were all copied onto a portable memory stick by a technician. In other shops, customers were charged for non-existent work and simple faults were misdiagnosed.

Sky engineers created a simple, easily diagnosable fault by loosening the connection of the internal memory chip. This prevented Windows being able to load. To get things working again, the chip would simply need to be pushed back into position.

The investigation targeted six different computer repair shops. All but one misdiagnosed or overcharged for the fault.

The most serious offender was Revival Computers in Hammersmith, West London. Shortly after identifying the real fault, an engineer called our undercover reporter to say the computer needed a new motherboard, which would cost $200.

The surveillance software then recorded one technician browsing through the files on the hard drive, including private documents and intimate vacation photos, including some of our researcher in her bikini.

[Revival Computers had its membership suspended by Britain's Professional Computing Association Wednesday afternoon.

Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission told they'd never heard of American computer-repair technicians stealing passwords from clients.

The U.S. Council of Better Business Bureaus said it received 1,595 complaints regarding computer service and repair in 2008, a 23 percent jump from the previous year.

"This is one of those industries — like auto repair — where you have to trust that the technician is being honest," said BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick. "With a computer technician, there's a larger threat of identity theft or other violations of privacy."]

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