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Secrets for Sale

By Fiona Hudson

07 October 2006

Call centre fraud is flourishing in India with confidential details of bank and mobile phone customers readily available for sale.
The extent of the illegal trade in sensitive data was exposed yesterday in an undercover sting by a documentary crew for Britain's Channel 4. It comes as hundreds of readers voted in our poll on call centre concerns. To join them, see the poll on our home page. Reporter Sue Turton was offered to buy spreadsheets showing the credit card numbers, bank account numbers, security codes, names, addresses and other details of thousands of customers of major companies.

The Dispatches documentary The Data Theft Scandal claims the fraud is widespread and exists in major Indian cities including Calcutta, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Banagalore is the city where Westpac has earmarked 500 jobs now based in Sydney. ANZ employs hundreds of workers in Indian call centres and NAB is also looking to shift 160 data processing jobs for India. One former call centre worker told the Channel 4 program: "The potential for fraud was very, very high. "I mean, security where I worked was non-existent. It's really that easy to take anything you want out of the buildings.''

A middleman admitted the information he was selling for $20 per set was obtained from an Indian call centre selling mobile phones - and boasted he could provide the records of 100,000 customers each month. A UK expert confirmed data provided to the reporter were customers of banks including HSBC and Barclays.

One call centre consultant showed off the illegal data he was offering for sale from his laptop. His database of about 200,000 identities included some passport and licence details obtained from customers who bought mobile phones via an Indian call centre. Data protection lawyer Stewart Room said the program proved the fraud was systematic. "What I've seen here is the best evidence you could give me ... of wholesale disregard for fair and lawful practices in information processing,'' he said. "You couldn't scare me more. This is as bad as it gets. This is evidence of serious criminal offences.''

Another middleman offered details for as little as $12.50 per customer. He said the data was mined by agents posing as technical support staff, who carried the sensitive data away using computer memory sticks. One seller who feared he was being set up agreed call centre fraud was bad for India's economy because foreign companies might pull out and leave thousands unemployed. The trade body for the IT and services industry in India, NASSCOM, told Channel 4 it was committed to ensuring "the globally best cyber environment in India''. Several alleged criminals later claimed the data they were offering for sale was fake.


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