Does Poor Customer Service Contribute to More Identity Theft?

At first glance, the question that I have posed doesn’t seem to make much sense but bear with me while I explain.

The main publicity for identity theft always seems to be directly aimed at the internet and in particular at unsolicited emails – Phishing. We have probably all received them at one time or another, a bank (more often than not a bank that you are not a customer of) informing you that there has been a computer error and that you need to reconfirm your details by clicking onto the provided link and entering everything needed to have your identity, and your money, stolen. A more recent trend is purporting to be from major shop/restaurant chains offering £50 or more in vouchers for completing their surveys. There are still a few of the old classics around as well, such as identifying you as a winner of a foreign national lottery (even though you have never purchased a ticket in your life) and you need to send an administration fee or maybe a letter from an African country (or anywhere else that there has seen political turmoil recently) asking for your bank details so that vast sums of money can be funneled out of the country and you will receive a nice fat fee for helping.

Most of these emails scams have one thing in common – if you use a little common sense, they are easy to avoid. Most email providers have ‘spam filters’ in place and these try to automatically filter out these and other items of junk mail. Another thing to remember is the old adage that ‘You don’t get anything for free’ and that saying is as true today as it has ever been.

Using Emails to con people has almost completely replaced the older traditional postal mail service but there is one method that has not changed and is still very much in use; The telephone.

This morning I received a phone call from my father because he was worried that he might have been scammed. He had received a phone call informing him that the bank needed to send out a new card for my brother and that they needed to confirm a few details first. As my brother has poor hearing, my father told the voice that both he and my mother were authorised to take the call and he was then asked for their names and dates of birth. It was only after this information was given that suspicions were aroused and when my father asked what they needed that for….the phone call was terminated by the caller. Worried by this call, my father then rang me and asked what I thought he should do now. My advise to him was that they should at the very least contact the bank to report what had happened and to get their advice on what action was needed.

This is where poor customer service rears its ugly head

We live in the age of the Call Centre. It is no longer possible to make a call to any large company or even a government department and have the call answered by a trained and experienced person who can help you. It is far cheaper to employ disinterested school leavers, put them in a large room, give them a script to work from and pay them minimum wage. Not really a good recipe for customer service.

I have worked in call centres – in both the private and public sectors – and there is very little difference in how they are run. The phone operators are allocated calls and given a set time in which to deal with them. Take too long to deal with a call and you get into trouble, take too long between ending a call and taking a new call, trouble again. I was even told, in a meeting with the head of all of the call centers for a major government department, that if any of the call centers answered 97% of incoming calls then they were overstaffed and cuts would be made.  It is a low paid, high stress job that leads to burn out and a high turnover of staff. The few people who survive this environment for any length of time get rewarded by being taken off of the phones and become team leaders – usually at the point where they were actually becoming knowledgeable about their job and able to offer a good service. Once you get through to talk to someone – they have a legal responsibility to confirm that you are who you say you are. This is true even if they are the ones that called you and as a result of this, we are used to people from the government or financial institutions asking for personal details.


Before you can talk to the telephone slaves, you have to navigate through an automated maze that is purported to be there to make sure that you can be put through to the correct department but in reality seems to be there to prevent you from actually talking to anyone. It was this soulless maze that was dissuading my father from contacting the bank. I did eventually convince him to go to the bank that day and not to wait and go the following day but because customer service seems to have been replaced by ‘as cheap as we can get it, customer contact’ there has been what could be a costly delay.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to avoid giving your details to the wrong people:

1. Legitimate callers should not be asking for your national insurance number, your date of birth or bank account number. Typical questions are more along the lines of ‘Can you confirm when you last spoke to us? or, if you have financial dealings with them they may ask you for the name of your bank.

2. Were you expecting a call from these people? They are not in the habit of making social calls so if you have not been dealing with them lately, a phone call can be suspicious.

3. If you have any doubts at all over the authenticity of a caller, ask them to give you a contact number so that you can call them back. This is not fool proof as they could have two telephone lines but it only takes a few seconds to type the telephone number into any search engine (google, yahoo etc) to search for the number. If there is no result or it comes up as anything other then who they claim to be then report the call.

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