In a sensational report, a leading tabloid in London on Thursday claimed that 'crooked' call centre workers in India are flogging details of Britons' bank accounts, prompting the police to launch an investigation into the scandal.
The Sun claimed that its undercover reporter was sold the top secret information on one thousand accounts and numbers of passports and credit cards for about £2,750 and was asked for another £275 later (approximately Rs 250,000).
A dodgy IT worker in Delhi gathered the data from call centres. He asked details - which would give criminals priceless access to the lives of unsuspecting victims, allowing them to clone credit cards and raid accounts, it said.
The 24-year-old IT worker obtained account numbers, bank card details, secret passwords and other information.
The City of London Police has launched an investigation after receiving a dossier of information from the journalist outlining a number of banks whose security may have been compromised.
Among the banks reportedly believed to be involved are NatWest and Barclays. But a spokeswoman for Barclays said she would be surprised if the company was involved as no personal customer data was held in India.
In an editorial column, the Sun called the story "a scandal," adding British banks "will want guarantees from the
Indian Government that the full rigour of the law will be used against the crooks."
According to the tabloid, Karan Bahree, who gathers supposedly secret information from corrupt call centre workers in Delhi, boasted, "I can sell as many as 200,000 account details a month."
Computer expert Bahree said he buys the information from a web of contacts who work in call centres, adding, "I believe in one thing. Technology is made by man and it can be broken by man."
More than 75 per cent of IT services outside America are now sourced from India, whose economy is booming. But it is believed there are many more persons like Bahree bending the rules, the report said.
Leading fraud expert Tom Craig, 55, told the paper "data theft from overseas call centres has been a time-bomb waiting to go off."
Ex-cop Craig, now boss of anti-fraud advisers Amarlis, said, "There are serious concerns that cyber crime from call centres overseas is causing serious loss not only to individuals but also to companies and governments."
Bahree, an ex-public school boy, works for a company called Infinity eSearch - describing himself as a website analyst. But he gained in depth knowledge of call centres while training staff for three years at Daksh services, a subsidiary of multinational giant IBM.
The tabloid correspond contacted Bahree as a British businessman seeking data. Along with the account details, he handed the undercover reporter issue and expiry dates of bank cards and their three-digit security number on the back.
Many also came with account holders' answers to security questions, a fail-safe supposed to confirm identity.
Bahree offered to flog details of mortgages, medical bills and mobile phones - and said he could also get his hands on information about American citizens.
He said "Profits rule. I sell to clients in Britain and India," the paper said.
The undercover correspondent's meetings with Bahree came at a Delhi hotel and the trendy Book cafe in Gurgaon -- home to nearly 40 new call centres.
Asked if he could get details of celebrities, he said: "I'll look into it. I'll try. Give me some time."
Last month, a report by the Financial Services Authority warned that "off-shoring carried potential risks to the security of account details," although it said there was no evidence to suggest the danger was greater than in British call centres.
But in April, a racket involving three people working at a call centre in Pune, operated by America's Citibank was broken after the gang stole about £200,000 from the accounts of New York-based customers.
A spokesman for City of London Police said: "Our advice is never respond to unsolicited calls regarding your account security details."
There are thought to be more than 300,000 people working in India in call centres supporting British industries, including insurance and investment companies.