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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Criminals in the Call Center?

New reports say call center employees could be leaking personal customer information

If you're wondering where that leak came from -- or how that fraudster got your information -- the company call center might be a good place to start.

That's the conclusion of new studies and reports coming from researchers in the U.K. The independent, unrelated reports all have the same general theme: Call center employees may be motivated, tempted, or duped into giving out confidential data about customers.

On Friday, the Strathclyde Police issued a report that one in ten call centers in Glasgow has been infiltrated by criminal gangs aiming to commit fraud. The police told the BBC's Newsnight Scotland program they are actively working with companies to develop hiring practices that reduce the employment of potential criminals.

There are about 300 call centers in Glasgow, employing about 18,000 people. The police said organized criminal gangs had either placed their own people in the call centers or were coercing call center workers to pass along information, using money or threats of violence.

The report from Scotland comes just a few weeks after BBC Channel 4 aired a "Dispatches" documentary alleging widespread crime in India's call centers. The undercover TV investigation, which aired Oct. 5, claimed to have infiltrated criminal gangs selling thousands of U.K. credit card and passport details for as little as $9.50 each from offshore call centers.

The BBC 4 report, which followed a 12-month investigation, featured footage of middlemen offering credit card details of 100,000 U.K. bank customers to an undercover reporter. The data had been obtained from call centers in India, according to the report.

The television report reopened many wounds in India, where call center leaks were discovered last year. Several ex-employees of Mphasis BPO, a call center services provider, were arrested in April of 2005 following the theft of approximately $350,000 in fake account money. In June of 2005, a British newspaper conducted an undercover investigation in which a reporter was able to buy account information on 1,000 users from an Indian call center operation.

In January of this year, India's National Association of Software and Service Companies established a database to help companies verify call center workers' credentials and conduct background checks via law enforcement organizations. Complaints about call center leaks in the region have been quieted since that time, but arose again after the TV report.

Experts say call center leaks can happen anywhere, from India to Scotland to the U.S. In a study sponsored earlier this year by Intervoice, researchers tested the call centers at the U.K.'s top 20 financial institutions. They found that call center employees at nine of the institutions could be easily coaxed into accepting less stringent identity checks from callers claiming to have forgotten their personal passwords.

Companies should do background checks on call center employees, and should monitor their activities both physically and electronically, experts advised.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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