Indian call center workers charged with Citibank fraud

Account holders were defrauded of $300,000

Former employees of a call center in Pune, India, were arrested this week on charges of defrauding four account holders in New York of Citibank, a subsidiary of Citigroup, to the tune of $300,000, according to a police official in Pune.

The three former employees of Mphasis BPO, the business process outsourcing (BPO) operation of Bangalore software and services company Mphasis BFL Group, are charged with collecting and misusing account information from customers they dealt with as part of their work at the call center, according to Sanjay Jadhav, chief of the cybercrime cell of the Pune police.

"Either in goodwill or on false pretenses, they also obtained the PINs (personal identification numbers) from these account holders in the course of their work," said Jadhav. The three former employees and their accomplices then used the services of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) to transfer funds from these accounts to their own accounts and fake accounts that were created for this purpose in Pune, he added.

Mphasis officials declined to comment on the developments. The Pune operation of the company runs a call center for New York based Citibank.

The police acted on a complaint from Citibank who in turn were alerted when account holders noticed suspicious transactions in their accounts, Jadhav said. Citibank officials were not immediately available for comment.

Police have arrested 12 persons, of which three were employees of Mphasis BPO in Pune until December last year. When they quit their jobs, the three employees carried with them the details of the four accounts, and used a number of subterfuges including false e-mail accounts and the account details to transfer funds into accounts in Pune, according to Jadhav. "We caught one of them on Monday when he came to a bank in Pune to enquire about one of the accounts," said Jadhav. "After that we were able to arrest the others."

The outsourcing of call center and other business processes from the U.S. and U.K. to Indian companies has been criticized by many organizations in the U.S. and U.K., including workers' unions complaining about loss of jobs as a result of offshore outsourcing. One of the key issues that has been raised is the danger of data theft and misuse.

The threat of data theft and misuse is no higher in India than in other countries, including the U.S., according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in Delhi. The organization maintains that Indian outsourcing companies have adequate security systems in place. It is not known, however, how the employees of Mphasis BPO were able to get away with data and misuse it.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.