GARDAI are investigating an employee of a major call centre handling property tax applications amid suspicions he illegally obtained credit card details.
The matter came to light when a Revenue Commissioner 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.
The investigation is a major embarrassment for the Government after the Revenue Commissioners out-sourced the processing work to a private firm despite trenchant opposition from civil service unions including the 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.
The 22-year old call centre worker asked for credit card details including names, card numbers and security codes despite the fact his job was only to offer general information about existing property tax applications.
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.
The cards involved have a combined spending limit of over €100,000.
A call centre 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 made no comment on the matter last night.
It is understood the matter will also be referred to the Data Protection Commissioner.
The contract for handling property tax queries was out-sourced amid concerns processing such a huge number of returns could cost the Revenue Commissioners around €5m.
However, the value of the contract for the call centre will ultimately be determined by the number of calls it handles on an annual basis.
The call centre handles queries about property tax applications and does not directly process payments.
The firm secured the contract despite the CPSU objecting to the outsourcing of such helpline operations.
The union last year lodged a complaint with the Civil Service Arbitration Board that the deal represented a breach of the existing Croke Park agreement.
However, the board allowed the contract on the basis that it involved a new service and did not represent a loss of existing work for civil servants.
The Revenue Commissioners defended the 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.
The firm involved has over 1,000 employees handling a range of different call centre and business processing functions.
However, between 30 and 40 staff are involved in handling property tax queries.