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BBC Probe Claims TalkTalk Call Centre Scam Involved “hundreds of staff”

Monday, March 6th, 2017 (2:07 pm) - Score 3,065
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Several whistle-blowers’ claim to have revealed details of a significant scam that operated from “call centres” in two Indian cities and involved “hundreds of staff“, many of which had been “hired to scam customers” of UK based broadband and phone provider TalkTalk.

Last year TalkTalk confirmed that three employees for sub-contractor Wipro, which operates the ISP’s outsourced call centre(s) in India, had been arrested by local police in Kolkata (Calcutta) after allegedly stealing personal data from subscribers and using it in call centre scams (here). NOTE: The Wipro incident is not directly related to the 2015 cyber-attack on TalkTalk’s website.

At that point customers’ of TalkTalk were already no strangers to the risk of scam callers and indeed many had been subjected to exactly that sort of con. Since then we’ve not heard much from TalkTalk about the situation, although a new investigation by the BBC, which is based on information supplied by three alleged employees of dodgy call centres, appears to reveal just how big the scam was.

Apparently the whistle-blowers’ were employed by two front-companies that had been established by a gang of professional fraudsters. Both of those companies, which have not been named in the article, deny any wrongdoing.

BBC Summary

They say as many as 60 “employees” work in shifts in each office [each earning about £120 per month], phoning TalkTalk customers and duping them into giving access to their bank accounts. The whistleblowers say they were given a script in which they were told to claim they were calling from TalkTalk.

They say they then convinced victims to install a computer virus [trojan that took over part of the computer]. A separate team would use that virus to gain access to victims’ online banking, they add. While it has not been possible to independently verify their claims, the sources have given highly detailed accounts of the scammers’ tactics, which correlate very closely with previous reports of fraud targeting TalkTalk customers.

The article suggests that several of Wipro’s employees allegedly stole at least some of TalkTalk’s personal customer data from the company (putting it on USB sticks) and later traded it to the dodgy fraudsters, who then used the information to cheat customers out of their money. Naturally if a caller appears to have all of your account details then it’s a lot harder to tell a fraudster from an authentic support call.

In fairness this kind of crime is by no means unique to one ISP and other companies have been targeted by similar activity in the past. However at the time TalkTalk was criticised for taking too long to identify and stop the activity (apparently the data itself was stolen from Wipro in 2014 but TalkTalk didn’t begin their review until late 2015).

A Spokesperson for TalkTalk said:

“We are aware that there are criminals targeting a number of UK and international companies, and we take our responsibility to protect our customers very seriously. This is why we launched our Beat The Scammers campaign, helping all our customers to keep themselves safe from scammers no matter who they claim to be, while our network also proactively blocks over 90 million scam and nuisance calls a month.”

The ISP’s campaign reminds consumers that their staff will “NEVER” ask for your full password (they’ll only ask for two digits of it) or your bank details to process a refund. Likewise they won’t ask you to send money through services like MoneyGram or Western Union and they won’t quote your TalkTalk account number to prove the call is genuine.

Today outsourcing isn’t quite as popular as it once was, with operators like BT and EE even choosing to move their support back to the UK. Similarly consumers often complain that outsourced call centres lack the same quality as their UK based counterparts and there remains a general concern about shipping personal data overseas to countries where the laws and security standards might not be quite so good (not that the UK is perfect).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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10 Responses
  1. Bob2002

    I’m slightly surprised whistle-blowers even came forward. Support scammers, a similar line of business, have been interviewed and simply stated that although their friends had decided to take legitimate customer service/call centre roles – they had chosen call centre scamming because it paid better. A matter of personal choice.

    Again, if you listen to recordings of these types of scammers, they are entirely comfortable and relaxed while lying through their teeth to extract money from what may well be a vulnerable person.

    There’s a narrative that the scammers themselves are victims, that’s a bit of a distortion of reality.

    • gerarda

      I agree. I have asked these type of scammers if they are happy being criminals and they don’t usually deny that they are,

    • AndyH

      In certain parts of the world, what we see as (and is) scamming, is seen by them as a perfectly acceptable practice.

    • Steve Jones

      @AndyH

      I can see it might be socially acceptable among those who live in poverty and are desperate for the work, but it surely should not be acceptable to the authorities. I for one would like to know what representations have been made to the Indian authorities (where the great majority of theses scams seem to operate from) to clamp down on this sort of stuff. It can surely not be good for the reputation of the Indian IT and call-centre services businesses, which are now of considerable value to their economy.

  2. Steve Jones

    Talktalk involved in another data leak, albeit this time by a contractor operating a call centre. I assume this means at least some staff at the call centre are able to bulk download personal information which should surely raise questions. Whilst it’s very difficult to guard against rogue employees in call centres, they should have only limited functional access to data.

    I would assume that Talktalk keep customer personal data in a country which the European Commission has approved as having adequate data protection (covered by the EU Privacy Directive 1998). India is not one of those approved countries, so if there is some form of bulk-download capability, then it might be considered a breach of that directive.

    Having worked in related areas, even when IT support is off-shored, it’s been usual for UK-based technical support staff to have access to the databases and provide filtered responses to technical support staff based in countries not approved by the EU commission for holding sensitive data. A right pain it can be on conference calls.

  3. Philip Smith

    Brexit – Keep things UK based

    • Pools

      Brexit – following your analogy I’m expecting UK to growing bananas, oranges – yeah keep it inside as outside of UK is evil 😉

    • Hull_lad

      How’s Brexit gonna impact outsourcing to India?! Especially when, post-Brexit, we’re being promised milk, gold and honey from all of the other international trade deals that will be flooding our way 🙂

      Ultimately, you get what you pay for. TalkTalk can’t reasonably offer the cut prices that they do without scrimping somewhere – Sadly, they decided to scrimp on the most crucial bit of the business – the customer experience – and it’s cost them dearly!

    • Philip Smith

      I’m just not a fan of over sea call centres

  4. Thieving from UK Customers will never stop, they were selling details of loads of internet servers customers accounts, lots were covered up telling us that our account will be closed as all details of that account had been accidently erased and now had to be updated, it never ever fooled me, but had i been a recent customer i probably would have given them my details, you can never stop this danger of your account being cleaned out, UK customers have lost thousands through this, the best advice i could give would be to open an account at another bank and put a reasonably small amount in it, job done, all you need do is top it up now and again by drawing cash out of your main account and putting it in the small account, never transfer it, insurance companies have taken the lead in bringing our call centers back here, i would not mind paying a little extra to a company that had UK based call centers, this is what you get when putting call centers in poverty stricken Countries, corruption abounds in those Countries.

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