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I'm looking into a job, and I'm trying to figure out if there is a legal issue with it.

The role is called "asset investigator." It entails confirming bank info on behalf of credit card companies who want to collect owed money.

The job is as follows: the employer calls a bank and impersonates the owner of an account. After providing all sorts of personal info like social security number, address etc. (all provided by the company), the employer then confirms the account and tries to get as much info as possible- current balance, past transactions etc.

The employer doesn't actually do anything to the account. No money is transferred, no passwords changed, etc. But the info is then passed on to the credit card companies, who can then proceed to sue the person for debt.

I was told by an employer at the company that the credit card companies already have legal right to get this information from the bank, and they just prefer to avoid directly forcing banks to give over such private information (since it causes ill-will between the banks and the credit companies etc.)

This doesn't sound so legal to me. However, all of the discussions I found talking about impersonating bank account owners all focused on the transferring of money. I couldn't find anything just discussing the impersonation.

I'm trying to figure out:

  1. Is impersonating a bank account owner, in the above described situation, actually legal in general?
  2. Is it possible that in the specific situation, where the credit card companies (allegedly) have court permission to access the info, it would be permissible to impersonate the bank account owner?
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    Not only it sounds 100% illegal, the reason given avoid ill will from the bank seems totally unplausible. If I had to bet, my money would be in the "employers" being criminals who will steal the victims'money and leave a trail leading back to you. – SJuan76 May 9 at 22:06
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    @SJuan76 I agree that it sounds questionable, and you're right that it might be a set-up.. To clarify, I heard the reason from an employer, who may have been assuming that reason. I'm still waiting to speak with the owner of the company to get more precise info about it. I'm asking it here trying to pre-research the issues that may be involved. – Binyomin May 9 at 22:11
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    Maybe it is worth looking for this (or even asking) at Personal Finance & Money, they have a fairly number of questions about scams. – SJuan76 May 9 at 22:31
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    This is a scam. Do not accept the job, do not stay in contact with the people offering it. Pass on all information to the police of your jurisdiction, and next time, think about why someone would have you perform an obvious fraud to gain information that they have the legal right to access in a different way. – Nij May 10 at 1:27
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Your qualifications and experience as a finance clerk should point you in the right direction for the relevant legislation. If you're thinking "I don't have any qualifications or experience as a finance clerk", there's your first big red flag.

If this Bloke On The Internet can find the 1977 Debt Collection Practices Act, and the particular paragraph (802, sub paragraph c) that says "Means other than misrepresentation or other abusive debt collection practices are available for the effective collection of debts" - and goes on to list communication with third parties (eg. the bank : 805 (b)) and misrepresentation (807) as something "A debt collector may not use", it sounds like the supposed employer is looking for someone who can't, or doesn't, find that.

I might be getting off topic for SE Law, but I think there's more worth adding. If the purported employer has registered (physical) premises locally, and can supply references from satisfied (known) credit card companies who can be contacted independently, this could be a test : the successful candidate would be the one who refused. If they're not a debt collector whose name would ring a bell with the credit card companies when you checked their references, more red flags. And if the only contact is by e-mail or telephone, the red flags are coming thick and fast.

There's also the question of how you found out about the position. Personal recommendation, through a (physical) employment agency, or by you getting in touch with them? If you've indicated on line that you're looking for work, and this came through as an unsolicited offer, I think we both know what's going on.

Scams often operate by isolating the people involved - one person does something that doesn't look wrong on its own, someone else does something else, and eventually someone gets in touch with the account holder and says something like "This is John from Joe Bloggs builders. Remember that payment you sent us on the 25th? We got it wrong. It should have been for $22,000 and not $21,000. You'd save my job if you could send us the other $1000. Here's our new banking details."

It won't catch everyone, but the scammers don't need a 100% hit rate. Another thing they don't need is someone who's smart enough to wonder about the legality of what they're being asked to do, so credit to you there. I don't think this job is for you.

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There are professionals who are doing penetration testing in an attempt to find security vulnerabilities with the target company.

  • They will have a clear, written contract with the target company to permit the attack. Professional conduct means making sure that the permission is genuine before starting the attack.
  • Their aim is to map weak points in the security, not to extract personal data. There will be non-disclosure agreements to make sure.
  • Reports go to the target of the attack, not to any third party.

As you describe it, it looks as if scammers are setting you up as the fall guy for their schemes. They and the money will be gone, you go to prison.

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  1. Is impersonating a bank account owner, in the above described situation, actually legal in general?

Probably not, unless the account owner has expressly authorized it. It would violate banking privacy laws. It isn't necessarily actionable as a private cause of action for damages (damages would be nominal at most), but that wouldn't make it legal, and some regulatory agency or prosecuting attorney could probably punish you and the company for violating these laws.

  1. Is it possible that in the specific situation, where the credit card companies (allegedly) have court permission to access the info, it would be permissible to impersonate the bank account owner?

No court would every authorize a credit card company to access the information by impersonating the bank account owner. Courts have the authority to direct the bank to turn over the information and have no need to, or interest in, authorizing this to be done by deceit.

It is also worth noting that credit card issuers are banks themselves. The notion that there is a community of credit card issuers that is separate from another community of banks is a fallacy. Companies like Mastercard and Visa are producer cooperatives of banking corporations. All of the money loaned and payments collected go to banks that then pay a fee to the cooperative to keep it operating at cost. The decisions to extend credit to someone are made by banks, not the credit card network.

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  • Thank you for this answer. I also assume that it would violate something. But do you know of any specific laws or regulations that would be violated? – Binyomin May 11 at 22:40

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