Computer Crime Research Center


Security issues: find the enemy within

Date: October 12, 2005
By: Aarti

Organisations, these days, spend huge sums of money to find the right people and train them in the skills that would eventually help the firm perform spectacularly. But recurring instances of workplace frauds are a growing worry.

Consider the recent BPO scams in the country. This April, over a dozen employees of a call centre in Pune allegedly withdrew money from bank accounts of US-based credit card holders, to the tune of US$ 400,000.

In July, an undercover reporter of British tabloid The Sun, claimed that he had bought a CD containing bank account details of over 1000 British customers from a Gurgaon-based call centre employee. In August, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation alleged that a BPO firm in Gurgaon had divulged sensitive data of several Australians.

On September 4, a 26-year-old call centre executive in Gurgaon was reportedly caught red-handed by his superior for downloading confidential information related to the firm’s clients. That 21 per cent of all reported assaults, 11 per cent of all rapes and seven per cent of all robberies occur in workplaces depicts the gravity of the situation.

Scotland Yard’s computer crime unit recently found that 98 per cent of all crimes against companies had an insider connection. In the US, about six per cent of revenue is lost on an average annually due to employee fraud and abuse which translates to about US$ 600 billion in terms of its GDP or US$ 4,500 per employee. 30 per cent of all business failures are attributed to employee theft.

Are the right people hired? Do HR managers compromise on the quality of manpower? Does negligence in recruitment and selection procedures contribute to workplace frauds?

Hiring is not all that simple as it is thought to be. Even as the quality of people is the key differentiating factor, many employers abroad are forbidden by law from asking a prospective employee certain questions that may violate their privacy rights.

But should a firm hire a dangerous or unqualified candidate into a position where he/she could harm others, where a reasonable inquiry could reveal that information. And in such a case the employer may be held liable for the employee’s actions.

Costs for negligent hiring or retention of dangerous employee can run into billions. A trucking company in Toronto appointed a woman who appeared very impressive and seemed to have the right credentials to manage its accounts department.

Over a period of two years, the woman siphoned away US$ 250,000 from the company’s general accounts. An investigation found that she had also defrauded her previous employer to the tune of US$ 100,000.

The National Academy of Recording Arts &Sciences, Los Angeles had hired several casual hands for organising the annual Grammy Awards presentation. An alert Academy employee managed to nab a newspaper reporter who had masqueraded as a temporary worker for gaining information on the show’s winners. He was apprehended before he could lay his hands on any privileged information.

An MNC which hired a reputed business school graduate with excellent credentials soon found that he stayed over at the office, till late in the nights, habitually and also engaged in bizarre behaviour. Terminated after being caught for stealing software for his own gain, he confessed that he lost all his three previous employments for theft.

In the process of uncovering as much as possible about the skills/behaviours an applicant will bring into his/her job, several reputed firms abroad spend close to US$ 100 per candidate on background reference checks.

Besides examining the credit history, driving/medical/court records of prospective candidates, some potential employers even interview neighbours and former co-workers to learn more about the applicants.

Thus, investigating a potential candidate’s past before extending a job offer can prevent costly hiring mistakes. A properly conducted reference check would go a long way in identifying a potential high-risk employee. HR managers need to essentially focus on employment history.

“But then there are practical problems”, says Ritesh, Head of HR at a BPO. “Although there are elaborate procedures, when under pressure to complete the recruitment quickly, it is not possible to check individual references”.

HR Executive Pooja’s job is simple. “People recommended by known sources are only hired and therefore verifying references of applicants does not arise. Sometimes contacting a past employer can prove to be a waste of time, especially when they simply refuse to provide a reference”.

But then many individuals, using friends or relatives as references, may try to hide a gap in their work history or exaggerate training and experience.

Various studies have shown that over 80 per cent of an organisation’s worth is directly linked to the quality of its human resources. HR practices in successful firms are fully and exactly aligned to create such capabilities, capable of achieving business success.

In essence, a sound recruitment process will add value. Hiring the right individuals is the first step. The person must be fit for the job and the job should be designed for the person. A single phone call to check the credentials of a recruit can save huge sums of money. This is because even a single dishonest employee with the right influence and access can plunge an organisation into debts of bankruptcy, taking scores of shareholder investment along with it.

Prudence during hiring ought to be the mantra. Better safe than sorry.
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