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Thread: Has white collar crime found a security hole in the cellphone industry?

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Has white collar crime found a security hole in the cellphone industry?

    Does anyone remember the story of the computer programmer who had a bank account collect all the rounding problem values at a bank and it added up to a small fortune?

    As a systems man myself, I've understood that the amassing of a fortune in the sort of tiny transactions that slip through the cracks within a big corporate must be the holy grail of white collar crime. A combination of volume and the mindless nature of the corporate beast makes it the perfect target. You would just need to be in the right position.

    When I first called Vodacom about what is now established as a mystery invoice on my cellphone account, it was really out of curiosity. What has happened since has really got me a lot more than curious.

    Here's the factual part of this story.

    I received my usual monthly statement from Vodacom dated 3rd January 2011 totalling R1432.96 with the bottom line
    Your account will be debited with the full outstanding balance as reflected on this statement on 31/01/2011

    TOTAL DUE 1,432.96
    However, on the 31st January my bank account was debited R1436.38 - an extra R3.42

    Curious as to why this had happened for the first time ever in the all the years I've been a contract client of Vodacom, and as calls to customer care are free, I made the call to ask about the discrepancy. This led to my thread on Vodacom calling back, or should that be Vodacom not calling back. My mind at that point was on the stupidity of making service delivery promises you didn't have to, let alone ones you're not sure you'll be able to keep.

    What I didn't expect was that this mystery extra debit was going to become even more unresolvable than the lousy service delivery issue.

    The first consultant I spoke to said the extra R3.42 was debited as a result of an invoice raised on 17th January 2011. Now as of the date of the debit order, I was totally unaware of this invoice and it had not been reflected in a statement to me either.

    First question: How can you debit my bank account for an amount that you haven't provided me either an invoice or statement for? Surely the debit order should have collected the balance per the last issued statement only?

    This question remains unanswered. Clearly it's a systems process issue and I probably should get out a contract and read the fine print to establish the actual legitimacy of this. What I suggest we take away from this for the time being is that funds can be extracted from your bank account by someone simply raising an invoice and crediting it somewhere in the financial system at Vodacom as surely as if they had hacked directly into your bank account.

    Second question: What was this invoice for?
    And now things get really interesting.

    According to the invoice it is a charge-back for a credit I received in error in December 2010.

    There have been three attempts to explain this charge-back and they start out confidently enough. The problem is once challenged to find this supposed credit (because it certainly doesn't reflect on the paperwork I have), no-one can find it.

    They start out with "if you check your December statement, you will see that you were debited less than the amont owed on the end-of-month debit order."
    Not true. Never happened yet that there has been any difference between the two. This is the first time.

    "Well then there's a credit been passed on your account in December."
    Honey, I'm sitting with the paperwork right in front of me and there's no credit anywhere. Which contract does this invoice relate to anyway? (I've got three on the same statement). Time passes as consultant does stuff...

    "Wow! That is wierd. I wonder what that invoice is for then?"
    Yeah - me too. Could be why I'm calling. And seeing as I'm paying I believe I'm entitled to know.

    And the wheels fall off.

    The second time I called (because despite reference number etc. Vodacom hadn't called) the consultant said something intelligent.
    "I'm just in customer care. You should be talking to accounts"
    Well, I thought I was talking to accounts after navigating the call queuing process of 082 111, so what number am I supposed to call.

    "082 1946"
    Well, can you put me through to them.

    "Sure"
    And he promptly transfers me - to what I discovered after explaining the situation all over again was yet another customer care consultant.

    I was rather peeved (to put it lightly) which led me to Greg, the supervisor.

    Greg was apologetic about the poor service. He said he could give me an email address to write to if I wanted to take it further, but it wouldn't help any.

    Greg was also fascinated by this mystery invoice. He seemed as eager as I was to know what it was for.

    "Don't worry Sir. I will track this down and get back to you. I'd really like to know what it is for myself."

    He never called back of course. But by now I'd come to expect that.

    So yesterday I called "accounts". I don't know if it's a free call, but no matter - I've got lots of free minutes and in the end it didn't take accounts long to get rid of me anyway.

    "Hello sir, how may I help?"
    I have this mystery invoice that no-one can tell me what it's for.

    "What's your number?"
    I give number.

    "Which invoice?"
    I give the reference number.

    "Sir, could you please call me back in an hour?"
    Sorry - what's the problem?

    "We are offline at the moment and I can't help you."
    Can't you call me back when you're back online?

    "I don't know when that will be. You must call back later."
    If you can't call me back, I'd rather publish my Vodacom experience so far, thanks.

    "OK" *Click*

    I kid you not.

    So much for the facts. I'll post my speculative concern about how white collar crime can take advantage of this rather slovenly outfit later.
    Last edited by Dave A; 15-Feb-11 at 06:19 PM. Reason: typo
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Gold Member Martinco's Avatar
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    Fascinating story................I hope it reaches the first page of Google.
    Your R 1400 is obviously not very important to them but just remember the old saying: "The wheel turns slowly but surely "
    What you are describing is stealing ...........finish and klaar .
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    Moderator IanF's Avatar
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    After dealing with Vodacom and an SMS scam, all I can say is they have no ethics and just don't care. I challenge anyone at Vodacom to prove me wrong!

    So Dave good luck with this and lets see if Vodacom cares about their online reputation.
    Only stress when you can change the outcome!

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    It is my opinion that this happens ALL the time, with the knowledge of the companies involved. The reason? They know most people won't bother to check and if they do check, they get dejected due to the difficult procedure of doing so , giving up half way.

    Any company dealing with lots of little amounts and debit orders...take your pick!
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    I think Debbie has nailed it on the head. Here is my admittedly speculative concern.

    It seems entirely possible that this invoice is, in fact, a fraudulent transaction captured into the Vodacom financial system. This could be by someone in "accounts" or one of the multitude of "Value Added Service" providers that seem to have direct input into the Vodacom billing system. Where there is an invoice to me, there has to be a corresponding allocation account for the funds received. As long as that allocation account pays out the beneficiary from time to time, our fraudster is getting the money.

    So what are the chances this isn't just an isolated R3.00 issue?
    And at this point I truly start getting concerned.

    How many people would even spot something like this on their cellphone bill?
    Of those people, how many people would even bother to call to query such a small amount?
    Of those people how many would have the paperwork handy to see that they'd actually just been fed bullsh*t as the reason.

    When I look at the Vodacom response, it just gets worse.
    The call-centre operators are clearly used to getting these sorts of calls. The knee-jerk response was just way to... knee-jerk.
    That same knee-jerk response is also given with much confidence.

    Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that I knew there had been nothing odd about the December transactions because it hadn't screwed up my accounting system (whereas this little sequence had) I would have accepted the "expert with the data before her" explanation without a second thought.

    And even once I'd pricked the bubble of this little illusion - what happened then?
    In a word, nothing.

    Even if, somewhere along the line, this incident didn't just drop into the cracks of the corporate machine and it did get escalated - how far up would it go before it was discarded as "not significant"?
    Even if an auditor (of whatever kind - internal, external, financial, systems) by some chance came across such a transaction in an audit sample, would it not be discarded as "not material"?

    And what recourse the victim (in this case that would be me)?
    The corporate machine won't respond.
    Any court of law would dismiss the case as "frivilous" - i.e. not worthy of the court's attention. So there is no prospect of legal recourse.

    What we could have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfect crime being practiced in broad daylight.

    Done over and over, who knows just how much might be involved.

    How confident are you that you are not a victim too?
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Diamond Member AndyD's Avatar
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    Vodacom like many other faceless large companies have a very useful tool at their disposal called a customer care switchboard. Through years of development and fine honing they now have a system which ensures that if you have a legitimate complaint they can keep you holding for hours, they can promise to call you back and then don't, they can bounce you between different departments. What this means is that 98% of people with a problem will go away without any remedial action required on Vodacom's part. The only chance you have of actually getting the issue sorted out is if you're one of the fortunate 2% who either know somebody in the system or you get your story in print in which case a special customer service agent who deals only with high profile cases will get some action.

    This reminds me of the UK banking charges scandal a few years ago where millions of people were illegally billed banking charges for years, eventually there was mass legal action which saw the whole house of cards come tumbling down. http://www.independent.co.uk/money/s...es-437064.html
    I'm kinda hoping some hot-shot lawyer will see a gap here and do something similar with Vodacom, MTN, Telcom and a whole host of other companies who operate on similar lines.
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    Couldn't agree more,Dave, more power to your elbow for persevering. Andy your characterisation of big corporate use of their customer care centre is also spot on and very well put. The extraordinary thing for me is that there is so rarely a leak of this as a company policy yet it clearly is, you would think a disgruntled employee,competitor,investigative journalist would expose this as intentional but it doesn't seem to happen, it has been going on for years and Martinco yes it is stealing.

    To be fair all business is about charging what you can for your service and it is a rare businessman that doesn't use opportunity to charge more, but do you know who is really at fault, it isn't the corporates or government it's us for letting them get away with it and for being too lazy to check our statements and particularly for setting up
    variable direct debits that are the main evil in this equation as they encourrage the problem. I am a firm believer in voicing negative reviews on the internet and have been considering for a while setting up a blog giving advice on services to deal with and more importantly to steer away from, if a story like yours went viral imagine the cost to Vodacom!!

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    Moderator IanF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OnlineMarketing View Post
    To be fair all business is about charging what you can for your service and it is a rare businessman that doesn't use opportunity to charge more, but do you know who is really at fault, it isn't the corporates or government it's us for letting them get away with it and for being too lazy to check our statements
    Are you encouraging underhand tactics like Vodacom are using here! This is like quoting one price for a job and charging another without confirming with the customer first, if this was discussed with your customer then there wouldn't be a hassle. I would love to read the Vodacom ethics training manual and see what they say about "honest" customer communications.
    Only stress when you can change the outcome!

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    Moderator IanF's Avatar
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    Dave
    I found a "code of ethics" on the Vodafone website Vodafone code would it be worthwhile emailing all the Vodacom executives about this. The following people are bound by it:
    The Code is applicable to

    The Chief Executive of Vodafone Group Plc;

    The Chief Financial Officer of Vodafone Group Plc;

    The Director of Business Planning;

    The Director of Financial Reporting;

    The Group Financial Controller;

    The Director of Corporate Finance;

    The Group Audit Director;

    All Financial Directors/Chief Financial Officers of Vodafone's Regions;

    All Financial Directors/Chief Financial Officers of subsidiary companies of Vodafone Group Plc.
    Since Vodacom is now a subsidiary they should have to adhere to this code. What is interesting is they have this code but undertake some very dodgy practices! It would be very interesting if we could get Vodafone to respond on this thread!
    Only stress when you can change the outcome!

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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OnlineMarketing View Post
    if a story like yours went viral imagine the cost to Vodacom!!
    Frankly, it will probably have to go viral to have any effect.

    SEO won't cut it. There's no official way to jump the issue above the customer care roadblock (probably for reasons best covered by Andy).
    There is no financial incentive to track down the problem... unless it starts significantly hurting their public image.

    Something else to bear in mind - this is not just about Vodacom. I just happen to be a Vodacom client so their name comes up a lot. This could be a problem with any and perhaps all the cellular service providers.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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