Scum On Down

Writing can be a thankless task, particularly when you have a penchant for getting down and dirty and hitting it from the left-field. So many are institutionalised within approved echo-chambers that their independent thought processes no longer function correctly – if at all. Add to this an omnipresent reluctance of those in the know to break ranks, and you consequently deal with spadeloads of denial whenever a challenge is made to the established order.

As you may know, I’ve scribed extensively on outsourced contact centres, which includes thoughts on offshoring. This week though, a few chickens came home to roost. A sharing bucket of meaty, succulent, Colonel Sanders chickens. No secret recipe, though.

A BBC investigation has been undertaken by a chap named Jim Browning to probe dedicated scam contact centres in India that target UK citizens with bogus technical support calls and fleece them of their hard-earned cash.

I could scarcely suppress my inner tumult.

These are hardened hoodlums with not a shred of remorse. Of course, it’s primarily about filthy lucre and iniquitous greed, but there are some other angles.

But I should clarify some terms of reference. This programme centres on enterprises that exist exclusively for the purposed of felony. When I raised the notion of such sites in Flypaper for Freaks (Ch. 28), some deemed it ‘fantasy’. Even borderline ‘racism’. Just for mentioning that they existed. In my books, I more generally pour scorn over outsourcing in general, as well as on offshoring. All these entities are distinct by definition, but I do argue a connection.

Nevertheless, I was how dare youed at 10 on the Greta scale, though, Jim has put that all into a big old calabash for the naysayers to smoke.

But first of all, let’s put some perspective on this, in terms of scale.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last 5 years (and if you have, I for one am jealous) you will have become well-acquainted with the volume of scam calls from the Indian sub-continent. You know, the ones where ‘Peter McNamara’ from Glasgow has discovered a virus on your computer, presumably though extra-sensory perception or something. As early as 2015, the UK’s Money Advice Service reported that these were amounting to 8 such calls received every second. Do the Math. That’s 28,800 calls per hour or 691,200 per day. A total of 253.3 million calls per year, 5 years ago. It’s not just going to be one poxy little centre at it. It’s on an industrial scale. But let’s leave that there for the moment.

Though I actually received two calls while I was typing that last paragraph.

Now why is there such denial and sensitivity on the subject? Well, of course you have the social justice warriors screaming ‘racism’, but frankly – given the volumes we know of and Jim’s evidence – these post-fact snowflakes are now a busted flush. After all, Jim has actually hacked into the CCTV systems of a scam organisation in Gurugram/Gurgaon – and downloaded over 70,000 of their recorded calls. It is a reality.

So that leaves us with the main reason for denial, and unsurprisingly, it’s all about the bread. Influential figures are loath to allow large-scale wrongdoing to poison perceptions of the very lucrative offshoring industry, not to mention the potentially huge economic tie-ins with India.

They’ve clearly never been connected to an offshore service, or they would be in no doubt that the services are in any event going to be slightly less impressive than ‘fundamentally shite’.

So, what gives with these offshore operations?

Having worked extensively in business process outsourcing (BPO), I’ve known forever that Indian offshore operations are systemically corrupt and are the source of humungous data haemorrhages which in turn are the oxygen of racketeering. And it’s not just your financial data being pilfered that may see you funding 326 pizzas for a village in Hyderabad, or a 190-mile Uber journey to Jaipur. It may be key biographical or user data that allows a fraudster to connive a convincing ‘in’. This may typically include dumps from chat sessions or website logs that will, for example, give a malefactor information on the PC you’re using.

Contact centre offshoring has since its inception endowed criminals with almost unfettered access to customer data. At a lower level, it will be the lone wolf opportunist and possibly cells of criminals in receipt of numerous data flows. At a more organised level, gangs look to place their confederates into the business. And it doesn’t even need to be a key position. Most outsourcers in the UK operate their IT systems on a shoestring. Given the rapid depreciation of computer equipment over 3 years, would you expect anything else? Last year, I saw several systems in a prominent UK business running PCs on Windows XP. Most won’t have properly configured end-point security (that prevents removable disks), and even if they run scanners that detect a past data transfer, they won’t actually stop the deed itself. By then, it’s horses and stable doors.

For the offshore entities, multiply the degree of ramshackle buffoonery by 10 – and then some.

These set-ups represent a multi-directional valve for people and data, and there is thriving sub-economy for crime. Whether it’s a question of unbridled recruitment of criminals getting in or data getting sucked out, these operations are breathing air into large-scale villainy.

So, where do you think these dedicated scam hubs get your details in the first place? They don’t just magic them up out of thin air – unless you do believe in ESP or believe that they employ the services of top-grade hackers to bust into all those GDPR-compliant databases in the heart of European business centres.

No, my friends, they purloin them directly from outsourcing agencies who use offshore solutions. No question, end of.

Ponder on it – it’s much easier to simply download a few million customers’ data to a USB stick and then take it from there. The dedicated felony factories are simply a logical extension of the smaller scamming that permeates every offshoring operation, which will be populated by people who are motivated by money and who are not inhibited by guilt. It’s a potent cocktail.

It can be even more alarming when you delve into the world of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO). ID documentation that you produce to your hiring company may well get farmed out for the purposed of identity theft. Leading RPOs sometimes offshore and don’t even tell their clients, who remain oblivious to the risks. Sometimes it will be on Government contracts as well as those in the private sector.

You see, there is a seemingly paradoxical underbelly to offshoring in India. In the UK, it’s lauded in some quarters as a gift to the Indian people – the opportunity to earn a relatively great living. But relative is the operative word. The Indians know that while they’re glad to work in the contact centres, the amount they earn is piddling, and it’s the UK monoliths who are coining it off their backs. It’s the same old story. To say there is an underlying resentment is an understatement. You see the same in Northern Ireland and the so-called near-shoring set-ups – companies sucking up Government grants, yet still paying minimum wage. Paradoxically, the workers perform and need the work, but they know they’re being screwed.

In offshore, the motivation for the money is ever-present, and any guilt is obviated by the gangmasters who prey on historical sensibilities to colonial exploitation. Why feel any sympathy for those who plundered and brutalised us in years gone by? It’s a form of criminal radicalisation. You see the same ingrained attitude with the Nigerian 419 scammers.

It should send a shiver down the spines of many business owners – if they had spines. Sadly, they just want to slurp from the cash trough with no responsibility.

Some companies have already withdrawn their offshore operations for UK-only contact centres, so all is not lost. However, while packaged as ‘the voice of the customer’ – the usual ‘you spoke, we listened’ bollocks – it’s driven by the audit and risk directors and not some ‘Customer Experience’ asshat. Thankfully, there are some big cheeses who understand that it’s better to hit 80% of your desired profit than 100% of nothing when the balloon goes up. Although they may actually have computed that services that are crap and imperil your existence are one big bowl of wrong.

In summary, it is immensely satisfying that the genie is now out of the bottle but remember a key point. Your details fall into the hands of these bastards because of other bastards who run businesses behind a thin veneer of respectability. The outsourcers and businesses who offshore and who prioritise profit over your security. They knowingly facilitate malfeasance.

Please inform yourselves. With whom do you have accounts and how do they support services? Seriously consider taking your business elsewhere. Policing and eradicating this will be a colossal hurdle to overcome owing to global reach, difficulties in identifying victims and perpetrators, tracing the source of leaked data, and the inescapable reliance on an Indian police service that has arguably even less motivation than it has ability.

On this one, nobody else is going to step in to help you.

For more on contact centre outsourcing, offshoring, and scam sites, read Flypaper for Freaks on Amazon now.

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