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Bank callerHave you ever been called by someone purporting to be from your bank? Probably, the answer is yes.

I once had an ongoing row with my bank as I refused to believe that calls were genuine and hung up each time, or ignored the calls once I recognised the number.

But they kept coming. It turned into a battle of wits. I eventually picked up, only to request they do not call again. The woman on the other end became quite irate ending the conversation with, “well, we will keep calling you because we need to talk to you!” Which was hardly polite, in fact it was quite threatening – putting doubt in my mind about the state of my finances. So, nil points and more training for that lady I thought.

In fact, most of these calls are genuinely from banks’ marketing departments looking to sell loans and all those extra services that banks provide these days, like breakdown cover or phone insurance.

But what’s tricky, and generates genuine concern among bank customers is that not only do the calls come out of the blue, and from 0800 and 0845 numbers, they also ask you for authentication, to ensure “they are talking to the right person”. Which, of course, is you.

Alarm bells start to ring. Hang on, some stranger is calling me saying they are from my bank and now they want to know personal details to authenticate the call, what’s going on? We weren’t supposed to give out such information...are we?

How do you know the call is actually your bank? The simple answer is, you don’t. As my own example showed, the whole process can lead to bad feeling, bad tempers and, in the end, lost business for the bank – hardly what the calls are intended tCredit cardo do.

The problem has been made worse by the recent growth of so-called “spoofing” as highlighted by the Daily Mail. Fraudsters are using technology that mimics the genuine numbers that banks use and tricks customers into revealing PIN numbers and other confidential details.

This will make it even more difficult for banks to use genuine calls to get through to their customers. The Daily Mail also reported that almost half of over-50s receive a suspicious or fraudulent cold-call every month, while four in ten people find it challenging to tell the difference between a real and a fraudulent call. Not good.

Against this background, it’s perhaps time the financial services industry rethought how they contact customers for marketing purposes. It could perhaps make its numbers clear on banking websites so customers know it is them – but then that doesn’t rule out the spoofers. It can certainly re-iterate that no genuine call would ever ask for passwords or log in details.

Perhaps it could outline exactly what kind of calls they would make and what they would ask by way of identifying you as the genuine customer. It could also provide an easy, no quibble way to opt-out of these calls should the customer wish. That’s good PR.

Truth is, short of abandoning such calls altogether, it’s difficult to know how banks could make these calls safer, less obtrusive and easy to determine whether they are genuine.

One option may be to simply not ask for any personal details at all and simply offer deals which can be followed up by the customer through the safety of their two-factor enabled online account. After all, calls can still be targeted to the right customers through secure, authorised access at the call centre itself. Obviously, sales may be lost but then isn’t trust, image and integrity is the lifeblood of any financial service?

In fact, if the industry could eradicate calls that ask for any sort of authentication and simply rely on more sophisticated methods, it would expose fraudsters completely as the banks would have committed to “no authentication” calls as an industry standard. The only people asking for any “authentication” would then be fraudsters.

By the way, since I maxed out all my credit cards, used up my overdraft limit and took out that 25.9% APR £50,000, 30 year loan, the bank doesn’t ring me anymore. I miss our little chats.

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About Paul Fisher

Paul Fisher is the founder of pfanda, the content marketing agency for the information security industry.

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