Criminal Gangs Infiltrate Scottish Call Centres, Say Police

27 October 2006

GLASGOW: Scotland's largest city is also its call centre capital, hosting over three hundred such operations - and growing. But one in ten of those call centres has been infiltrated by criminal gangs intent on identity fraud and the theft of sensitive customer information, admits Strathclyde Police.

Glasgow has many claims to fame, not all noble. One such distinction is its reputation for breeding hard men with whom it is unwise to disagree - and whose finely honed instinct for easy money is now focussed on the booming call centre industry.

Their technique is to 'persuade' current employees to provide sensitive customer information, for example credit card details. Gangs also plant their own members inside centres.

Says detective chief inspector Derek Robertson: "We have 300-plus [call centres] and . . . that number is growing. 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 and money laundering.

"There are a number of different ways to do it. 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." DCI Robertson added that call centre fraud is now a top police priority.

Trade body, the Customer Contact Association, unsurprisingly plays down the extent of the problem.

According to spokeswoman Anne Marie Forsyth: "I think what [DCI Robertson] is talking about is the financial services sector, but the contact centre sector is far wider with travel, health, insurance and lots of others.

"Nevertheless it is obviously a concern and it's a concern for all businesses. CCA membership has been very active over the last couple of years over sharing and exchanging data in this area. There is lots and lots to learn because business has got to be one step ahead as fraud increases."

Scottish Enterprise estimates that in Glasgow alone the call centre business employs about 18,000 people. Across the UK, that number is nearer to 800,000. The median annual income for call centre workers is £14,000 ($26,426; €20,859).

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff