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The Importance of Pretext Calling

By Adam Reynolds | Tuesday, September 13, 2022 - Leave a Comment

It’s all about protecting Customer information . . .

In 1999 the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) directed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and other federal banking agencies to ensure that financial institutions have policies, procedures, and controls in place to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of customer financial information.  The FDIC and other federal banking agencies then released guidance on how to address those issues, including pretext calling tests as a defense against the unauthorized release of customer information.  Pretext calling is defined as posing as a customer or someone authorized to have customer information in order to obtain confidential customer data.

Banks have been tasked with taking various steps to safeguard customer information and reduce the risk of loss from identity theft.  This includes establishing procedures to prevent fraudulent activities related to customer information.  To prevent pretext callers from using pieces of personal information to impersonate account holders in order to gain access to their account information, banks are required to establish written policies and procedures to control access to customer information.

As the FDIC’s letter titled “Guidance On Identity Theft And Pretext Calling” states, banks should train employees to recognize and report possible indicators of attempted pretext calling. They should also implement testing to determine the effectiveness of the controls designed to thwart pretext callers and may consider using independent staff or third parties to conduct unscheduled pretext phone calls to various departments.

Adam Reynolds
Lead Non-Technical Auditor

Pretext calling is used to assess the ability of staff members to not be tricked into giving out personal or confidential information, and to confirm authentication procedures are being followed. This is performed using “blind” and “semi-blind” pretext calling methods. During the blind phase, no information about the financial institution is provided to the testing team prior to performing the pretext calls. We typically have a discussion with the Client to identify what information we could try to obtain without having any information provided to us by the financial institution.  This can include customer information but may also include information the institution has identified as sensitive information (EIN, vendor names, etc.).  Pretext callers research the institution’s public presence for information that could be used against them, identifying IT personnel and vendors the institution may use, and then try to gain further information through calling.

During the semi-blind phase, a limited amount of customer information is provided to the pretext caller by the financial institution (e.g., name, address, phone number, account number).  Further information gathering is attempted as the pretext caller researches those customers on the internet (date of birth, mother’s maiden name, employer, etc.).  They then call front line employees posing as those customers attempting to gain further account information (account balances, recent deposits, etc.) with the information they were provided and gathered.

The required policies and procedures to protect customer information are not new, but if we are not testing that process, we cannot confirm they are working as intended.  The amount of personal information online related to our customers is only continuing to grow and we need to ensure that we are asking the right questions and that process is being enforced. Pretext calling is an important test that will give us insight into that process and show us if we are properly protecting customer information.

If you are interested in what infotex can do when it comes to Pretext Calling, visit offerings.infotex.com and reach out to us about it!

Original article by Adam Reynolds. Data Security Analyst, infotex



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