A survey of 45 customer contact centres in Glasgow, Scotland, has revealed that they offer criminals multiple opportunities for identity theft. Details published in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, show that agents at such centres commonly receive suspicious phone calls. Others reported having been offered money in exchange for private customer information.
Contact centres are the multimedia equivalent of the standard telephone call centre, providing customer care and acting as an information conduit for phone calls, email and fax, website feedback, and live online support.
Iain Moir and George Weir, of the University of Strathclyde, have identified specific practices within contact centres that may contribute to the likelihood of identity theft.
"The questionnaire indicated that 73% of the surveyed workers had dealt with a suspicious call," the researchers explain, "In all but one case, this was indicated to management. In finance, 100% reported that they had dealt with a suspicious phone call. This supports the view that the financial services sector bears the brunt of fraud attacks. In telecom and outsource, 60 and 70% of workers felt that they had dealt with suspicious phone calls, respectively."
Identity theft has become an increasingly prevalent form of fraud and represents a growing worry for individuals and businesses. Bribery of call and contact centre operatives and social engineering are reported as on the increase. However, Moir and Weir also point out that fraudsters may themselves gain employment in contact centres in order to gain access to personal information directly.
They point out that the tabloid preoccupation of "bin raiding" as a strategy for gaining information with which to carry out an identity theft and subsequent fraud is the least likely mechanism. Indeed, some offenders report that this simply doesn't happen, which is perhaps bad news for companies selling paper shredders. Instead, manipulation of employees at contact centres or direct theft of information is a more common source.
"Unfortunately, many contact centre agents are unaware of the risks and are untrained in how to deal with them," Moir and Weir explain, "This can result in severe financial loss to the customer along with the associated psychological trauma from having their identity stolen."
Since the survey was carried out, the UK's Call Centre Association, which aims to promote standards of practice in customer call centres, has now added a section to its "Global Standard" on the issue of fraud prevention. The researchers also point out that the Scottish Business Crime Centre has published a Good Practice Guide on fraud prevention in contact centres.
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