GARDAI are investigating an employee of a major call centre who was handling property tax applications on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners, amid suspicions he illegally obtained credit-card details.
The matter came to light when a Revenue Commissioners employee rang up to query an issue relating to their own property tax application and was astounded to be asked for credit-card details.
The tax official knew no such query should have been made and immediately notified both a senior Revenue official and the call centre involved, Abtran in Co Cork.
Credit-card details from around a dozen individuals were obtained and it is believed this was done with the intention of selling the data on to criminals.
Abtran last night confirmed the individual had been suspended and that "the individual did attempt to effect transactions but failed to do so".
"But the incident did not involve access to electronic payment systems."
The employee was not in a payments section and the firm insisted it was "an isolated matter relating to a single individual only".
The cards involved have a combined spending limit of over €100,000.
The investigation is a major embarrassment for the Government after the Revenue Commissioners outsourced the processing work to a private firm despite trenchant opposition from civil service unions including the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU).
Civil servants argued that there was more than enough capacity within the public sector to handle application queries 'in house' from Ireland's 1.6 million property owners.
Yesterday, it emerged that the 22-year-old call centre worker at the centre of the probe asked for credit card details including names, card numbers and security codes.
This is despite the fact that his job was only to offer general information about existing property tax applications.
A supervisor monitored the man's activities after suspicions were first raised and gardai were alerted when it was realised he was asking callers for their credit card details in breach of strict operating protocols.
Recordings of all queries handled by the man were examined and it emerged he had asked 12 individuals for their credit card details over the space of a month.
The man was a recent recruit to the call centre, which has been running a major employment drive over recent months.
The employee – who was not arrested – was questioned by gardai last week.
He is suspended and is now facing disciplinary proceedings from the call centre while a file will be prepared by gardai for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
"There is no indication any credit card data was transferred or that any of the accounts involved were compromised," a garda source said.
The Revenue Commissioners last night said they were "extremely concerned to learn about an incidence of attempted credit card fraud by an employee of Abtran".
Revenue declined to comment further while a garda probe is under way but confirmed it has referred the incident to the Data Protection Commissioner.
The Revenue Commissioners defended the Abtran contract earlier this year on the basis it could not afford to have its key staff tied up with processing such applications when they were more urgently required to handle core taxation duties.