In one case, passwords, log-in details and holiday 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.
An investigator from the Trading Standards Institute said he was “shocked” by the findings. The investigation was carried out using surveillance software loaded onto a brand-new laptop.
It operated without the user being aware that every event that took place on the computer was being logged.
All activity on the screen was captured in still images, and the identity of whoever was using the computer was recorded using the laptop’s built-in camera.
Sky engineers then 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 $ 130.
Tests carried out by our internal Sky engineer after the diagnosis revealed there was nothing wrong with it.
The surveillance software then recorded one technician browsing through the files on the hard-drive, including private documents and intimate holiday photos, including some of our researcher in her bikini.
As he snooped through the files, he is seen smiling and showing the pictures to another colleague.
Later on in the same shop, a second technician loads up the machine and also looks through the photos, which are inside a folder clearly marked ‘private’.
He then plugs his own portable memory stick into the laptop and copies files, including passwords and photos, into a folder labelled “mamma jammas”.
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.
When confronted over the findings, staff at Laptop Revival said they did not want to respond to Sky News on camera.
However in a telephone conversation, they denied all knowledge of the alleged abuses.
When shown the findings, Richard Webb, an e-commerce investigator for Trading Standards said: “I’m really quite shocked, both in the range of potential problems this has revealed – people overcharging, mis-describing the faults – but also people attempting to steal personal details.
“It’s a big abuse of trust. If you were expert in computers you wouldn’t have to hand in your machine to be repaired. They know that.
“They know you won’t be able to tell what they’ve done afterwards, they know you’re putting your trust in them and unfortunately, as we’re seeing, there are too many people willing to abuse that trust.
“What you’ve shown is that there is a much wider problem in the industry than we knew about.
“It suggests we need to look at the area again and we do need to test it like you have done, but with a view of taking criminal enforcement action if these problems are found and evidenced.”