Friday, 27 March 2020 12:27

Will COVID-19 drive telephone scammers out of business?

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COMMENT Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered everyone in the country to stay home for 21 days.

There are a lot of large companies in India providing call centre services to countries around the world. These companies probably never considered the possibility that their teams may not be able to get to the office. Certainly they would have the ability to cover 5% or 10% of staff being away at any one time, but not 100%!!

These companies may have considered "work from home," (we doubt it!) but it's highly unlikely this would work.

Firstly, it would require re-programming the massive PABX machines to do something they've never had to do in the past – forward every call to another number, or even direct team-members' outbound calls to the correct customer contact number. Secondly, it would require every employee to have either a home fixed line (highly unlikely – there are reports of only a little over 20 million subscriber lines) or alternately making use of their personal mobiles – something to which we'd expect a lot of resistance.

Further, assuming mobile phones, could you imagine the load on the mobile phone infrastructure to have a significant portion (perhaps as high as 30%) of all mobile phones in use constantly? No carrier plans for that level of usage. Further, how would these 'workers from home' actually connect to the computer systems that drive the whole system? Perhaps many would have non-mobile based Internet, but a lot will not.

In fact, in the major cities, it would be reasonable to expect multiple family members would be employed in these call centres, and as apartments are generally small, competition for space (physical and auditory) would be high.

There are further problems. Many of the call centres are working on projects with a variety of confidentiality clauses that prohibit sensitive information from leaving the office. Clearly, anyone who is in the office has signed a confidentiality contract, but that won't extend to the "layabout uncle" who's forever looking over your shoulder at home.

For the moment, most call centres have been labelled as 'essential services' but it is doubtful that this will continue – as soon as a case of COVID-19 arises, the whole lot would likely be shut down. Right now, if I was an Australian (or any other country) company with my call centre outsourced to India, I'd be very worried.

Which brings us to the scammers.

The silver lining here is that those annoying "Microsoft scam" (and every other outbound calling scam) call centres also are out of work. Most workers in those jobs would probably be 'fibbing' to their family as to the work they're actually doing, and it would be doubtful that they would want to sit in their lounge-room at home and make those calls! Once they're barred from attending the office (are they still "essential services?") it will all be over.

iTWire has contacted some of the major security companies that monitor this space and will hopefully update with facts related to the drop in calls.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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