Posted: Jun 28, 2012 9:05 PM
Updated: Jun 28, 2012 10:26 PM
HARLINGEN - Some bank customers' personal information may not be as secure as they believe.
"I think (Bank of America) customers think of their information being inside of a bank... but their information is also inside of that call center," said a man who has worked at the ACT call center in Harlingen.
Workers there answer calls for Bank of America. One former employee explained the type of customer information available to call center workers.
"Where you're from. Where your account was opened. When it was opened... All your balances. All your transfers. All your activity... Everything. Everything is there," explained the employee who didn't want to be identified. She's afraid of retaliation. We'll call her "Julie."
Minimum wage workers have access to millions of Bank of America accounts.
"Basically, we can do whatever we want," said another woman who has worked at the call center. "I can go in there and steal somebody's information... quit and then have that information for the rest of my life."
The only thing workers need to get the information is a customer's name.
You'd assume the call center is secure.
"You can't have cell phones - of course. We deal with like credit cards, so we can't have cell phones... can't have any writing utensils," explained Rogelio Montes, an ACT customer service representative.
Workers must sign a clean desk policy, which states, "Cell phones... are not permitted in the building at any time."
Montes said, "They're serious about it... but at the same time, you have those people who don't care about the rules, and they'll sneak it in in their back pocket."
"Cell phones, they're pretty much all over the place," said a man who's worked at the call center.
Another worker told us supervisors have access to their phones. CHANNEL 5 NEWS spotted worker after worker coming out of the call center building on their phone.
"I know the department where I work, if they catch you on the phone, it's an automatic write-up," said Montes.
Internal ACT emails obtained by CHANNEL 5 NEWS revealed management knows about all the cell phones. Company emails show more than 20 employees got caught this spring. Emails also show workers got in trouble for downloading data and putting it on flash drives.
"It made me very uncomfortable to see, you know, these associates doing what they were doing," said "Julie."
She suspects workers were stealing information. She told us, "They're looking at the screen, and they're texting over here."
She said she saw coworkers texting in the restroom and reported it to the human resources department. She was later transferred to another department.
"Everyone who works there knows that that information in front of them can turn into money for them," said another person who has worked at the center.
Insiders claim workers were being paid up to $500 a week to steal accounts.
"Julie" told us during breaks, workers would talk about being paid extra to collect information. She said the workers didn't say who was paying, but it was someone inside the company.
An email regarding fraud solicitation was sent to ACT upper management last August. In it, an associate claimed a man asked her to write account numbers down for him, and he would pay her $500 per week.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS obtained one worker's handwritten note about the payouts for private information. It states:
He called me back and asked me, "Do you wanna make extra cash?" I replied, "Are you selling drugs?" He replied, "No you work in credit cards right?" I said, "Yes, in the fraud department." Then he goes, "I can pay you $500 a week if you write down credit card numbers for me." I said, "Oh no are you crazy!"
A woman who's worked at the call center told us, "You would only get caught if you made a mistake. I know someone who charged somebody's account with some cell phones and put the wrong address."
"Everything that I saw... just made me sick," said "Julie." "It just made me sick."
Questions Taken to ACT Management
A CHANNEL 5 NEWS team drove to Johnson City, Tennessee to speak with company officials about the allegations at the Harlingen call center. ACT is one of the largest private employers in eastern Tennessee. The company centers there employs twice as many people as Harlingen.
The CHANNEL 5 NEWS team went to the company's human resources department and asked to speak with a representative about the security procedures in Harlingen. The person at the office asked CHANNEL 5 NEWS to stop recording and to wait for the human resources manager.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS was told Marc Keller, the company's corporate compliance officer, handles such inquiries. Keller arrived later but refused to answer questions on camera. Keller told CHANNEL 5 NEWS he would pass any inquiry to the appropriate channels, but he would not comment.
"I have no comment. Like I said, please pass on your inquiry," Keller said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS put the questions in writing and drove to the opposite side of town to ACT's other call center to look for Hunter Croft, the company's senior vice president.
Once at the second center, CHANNEL 5 NEWS discovered Kevin Green protesting in front of the building. He told us he was fired from the company about a year ago.
"The majority of the people... they are fine agents," said Green.
Green said cell phones were common in the center and the texting was rampant.
"If I had it (cell phone) on me, it had to be in my pocket... allegedly turned off," Green said.
In the end, no one from ACT agreed to answer questions on camera. Instead, they sent this statement:
We pride ourselves on the integrity of our people and our company and are vigilant about our quality and compliance standards. ACT adheres to rigorous industry standards, including International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27002 and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS 2.0). The company also undergoes an annual Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAE) 16 Type 2 audit. We hold our employees accountable to these standards, and in fact, our employees execute multiple confidentiality and code of conduct agreements at the time of hire, agreeing to uphold all of these industry standards. There is a zero tolerance policy for any deviation from these procedures...
We are proud of our employees who represent our company and our customers in a professional and ethical manner day in and day out, and we thank them for their commitment daily to our high standards.
Hours before the investigation was set to air, ACT contacted CHANNEL 5 NEWS to address claims that workers were being paid to obtain personal information. They sent the following statement:
You should know that ACT learned of that situation on Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 when the individual's coworkers reported him to management. The employee was immediately suspended and an internal investigation was conducted. The employee in question was terminated on Monday, Aug. 15. This is in accordance with ACT's quality policies and procedures. The company has zero tolerance for unethical behavior of any kind and for any deviance from its industry-standard procedures.
Many of the employees interviewed by CHANNEL 5 NEWS questioned whether Bank of America knows about any of the issues with ACT.
"You know, to get on the bank as a teller at Bank of America, you got to do all kinds of stuff, because, you know, you're handling (money)," Green said. "This way you still handling money because you still have access to a way to obtain money fraudulently."
Bank of America's Response to Investigation
CHANNEL 5 NEWS headed to North Carolina to Bank of America's headquarters in Charlotte. We wanted to show the documents relating to ACT to a representative of the bank. But security guards would not let CHANNEL 5 NEWS enter the building.
The bank eventually released this statement:
We can't comment on any specific vendor relationship, but in general, I can tell you that we have strong policies in place to protect customer information and our vendors are required to comply with those policies. In compliance with FDIC requirements, we require background checks on all vendor employees who work on Bank of America business. We also ensure compliance with these policies by monitoring vendor activities on a regular basis, including oversight of operations, audits and monthly customer satisfaction surveys.
The workers CHANNEL 5 NEWS interviewed told us ACT hasn't fully revealed the extent of the problems to Bank of America.
"Bank of America knows that ACT pays minimum wage. That's good for ACT. It's actually good for Bank of America. It means more money (for) them," said one of the workers we spoke to.
"Julie" doesn't believe it's the bank's fault. She told us the problem is with ACT. She has advice to customers.
"I would tell you to keep an eye on your account - very close," she said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS will keep watching the company and its employees to make sure your money and privacy are better protected.