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BPO blot in British backlash Indian sells secret data

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AMIT ROY London Published 23.06.05, 12:00 AM

London, June 23: In the backdrop of a strong backlash against outsourcing, Britain’s The Sun newspaper has published a story alleging that an IT worker in Delhi sold its reporter confidential information on bank accounts, credit card details and personal data of 1,000 British customers for $5,000.

The Indian was identified as Kkaran Bahree, 24, who apparently walked into a trap laid by Oliver Harvey, a Sun reporter posing as a British businessman on a fishing expedition. Bahree allegedly revealed he got his information from contacts in call centres.

The reporter went to Delhi after being tipped off about Bahree’s activities “by a source in Delhi”, met him three times and had him filmed accepting a wad of notes.

The paper’s documentation has been handed over to City of London police who have contacted most of the big UK banks and launched an investigation. British police have also contacted their Indian counterparts through Interpol.

The paper’s revelations in a front-page splash have been seized on by critics of business process outsourcing (BPO), especially British trade unions, who are now urging tighter control of information in India and a halt to the transfer of jobs.

Dave Fleming, senior finance officer for the union Amicus, said: “Amicus has warned that the offshoring of financial services has huge data protection and customer confidentiality implications. Companies that have offshore jobs need to reflect on their decision and the assumption that cost savings benefiting them and their shareholders outweigh consumer confidentiality and confidence.”

The Sun’s story is headlined “Your Life For Sale” and is summed up as: “In a shocking investigation, the paper bought 1,000 Brits’ names, banking details and passwords... all obtained from crooks in Indian call centres.”

It says: “Targets have accounts with leading High Street banks and building societies, including HSBC, Barclays, (Lloyds) TSB, NatWest, Abbey, Woolwich, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide.”

A Lloyds TSB spokeswoman said: “Customer confidentiality and security of data is a top priority for us. We have stringent measures in place across all our operations in the UK as well as in India.”

Although the story is bylined “Exclusive by Oliver Harvey”, the report itself is written somewhat curiously in the third person by Oliver Harvey.

His report says that “our undercover reporter was sold the top secret information on a thousand accounts”, rather than “I was sold the top secret information on a thousand accounts”.

The Sun also revealed that Bahree, “an ex-public school boy”, is “a member of India’s top Brahmin caste” and that he is “a virgin who lives with his parents”. How either nugget is relevant to Bahree’s alleged financial crime is not made clear.

There is no evidence yet that the information Bahree is said to have supplied is genuine. But a spokeswoman for the City of London police said: “All the financial institutions identified have been fully informed of the situation. An investigation is now under way.”

Bahree is supposed to have told The Sun: “I can sell as many as 200,000 account details a month.”

The paper says Bahree, who describes himself as a “website analyst”, works for a Gurgaon-based company called Infinity eSearch.

Bahree “gave us account holders’ secret passwords, addresses, phone numbers and details of their credit cards, passports and driving licences”, the paper says.

Bahree also allegedly handed over issue and expiry dates of bank cards and their three-digit security number on the back.

The Sun points out: “The information could help criminals tap into accounts, clone credit cards, buy goods, apply for new bank cards and divert mail.”

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