Scottish call centres infiltrated by gangs

One in ten of Glasgow's call centres have been infiltrated by criminal gangs, according to Strathclyde Police.

The organised gangs are said to be planting members inside call centre offices or forcing current workers to reveal sensitive customer data. The details are then used to steal identities and set up accounts or transfer money in laundering scams.

Detectives believe the criminal groups actively recruit volunteers to work in call centres and once they agree they are asked to provide sensitive financial information in return for a fee. Officers suspect the gang members also target innocent employees in pubs and intimidate them to obtain customer data.

Det Ch Insp Derek Robertson of Strathclyde Police told the BBC: "I would say approximately 10 per cent [of call centres] have been infiltrated in the past and we are working very hard to reduce that number."

He said there were more than 300 call centres in Scotland's largest city and criminal gangs were using several methods to obtain customer data.

"We know of organised crime groups who are placing people within the call centres so that they can steal customers' data and carry out fraud. We also know of employees leaving the call centres and being approached and coerced, whether physically, violently or by being encouraged to make some extra money. And of course you have the disgruntled employee who may turn their hand to fraud just to benefit themselves," he said.

Mike Howse, MD for EMEA, Protegrity, believes businesses are failing to spend sufficient time tightening the security process around what call centre operatives can and can't do.

"Companies can outsource their IT but not their liabilities. This is beyond an IT issue, this is now a boardroom issue and organisation CEOs should be highly concerned. There's a direct relationship between exposure of data and stock price and brand," he said.

"Corporations need to put strong security processes in place, tightly manage what a third party can do, desktop machines used by workers need to be strictly monitored and forensics need to be used to measure what they are doing. This should lower opportunities for criminals and dramatically reduce fraud," he continued.

Det Ch Insp Robertson said call centre fraud was now a top priority. "The only way to get ahead of the criminal [is to] proactively target the organisation before they recruit their member of staff. We are actively working on that," he said.

Those who represent the call centre industry insist that security is their main concern and say they are working with police to improve the safety of their systems.

This follows the Channel 4 Dispatches programme earlier this month, which revealed that employees in Indian call centres were stealing customer data and selling it on the black market.

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