Two private information brokers Tuesday offered lawmakers "how-to" instructions for duping bank employees and customers into revealing confidential financial data.
In testimony before the House Banking Committee, the brokers said bank account numbers, credit card purchases, and other financial information are easily obtained by so-called "gag" telephone calls, in which an information broker impersonates a bank depositor or borrower.
Robert S. Douglas, president of Douglas Investigations in Alexandria, Va., said an unscrupulous broker posing as a customer can angrily insist that a bank has incorrectly recorded his mother's maiden name, a common type of password used to check identification. The unnerved employee usually agrees to let the caller change the password and then provides the account information.
Mr. Douglas endorsed legislation introduced by House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach that would make it a federal crime to obtain customer information from a financial institution through fraudulent means.
Acting Comptroller of the Currency Julie L. Williams said the legislation would help bank regulators. "Our efforts to tackle this problem have been hampered by the fact that at present there is no federal law that directly prohibits the procurement of customer account information under false pretenses," she said.
But Al Schweitzer, a private investigator who has been indicted three times for using illegal means to obtain information, said financial institutions must also be required to implement safeguards.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, the committee's ranking Democrat, agreed. "By shifting the liability for the misuse of confidential financial information onto third parties, we run the risk of weakening the incentive to improve security measures within financial institutions," Rep. LaFalce said.
Banking industry groups, which have endorsed Rep. Leach's bill, argued financial institutions do not need extra regulatory requirements. "Banks already have enough incentive to protect private customer data without additional burdens," John J. Byrne, said senior federal legislative counsel for the American Bankers Association, in an interview.
Russell Schrader, Visa U.S.A. assistant general counsel, urged Rep. Leach to replace his detailed list of information-gathering abuses that would be outlawed with a blanket prohibition against fraudulent techniques, because brokers are continually devising new schemes.