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Office sleuths could be on the prowl

Be careful, an office Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple could be snooping on your computer usage, official transactions and even your spending habits. Neha Mehta gives more details.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2008 01:24 IST
Neha Tara Mehta
Neha Tara Mehta
Hindustan Times

Unknown to you, an office Sherlock Holmes or a Miss Marple could be snooping on your computer usage, official transactions and even your spending habits. Spies don’t always come with a detective’s hat and a magnifying glass: the office sleuth could be the friendly manager on your floor, the new intern, or even software that monitors every click on your office computer.

India Inc has planted undercover operatives planted across boardrooms, prompted by paranoia over data leaks and other forms of economic fraud, which could result in humungous losses. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Economic Crime Survey 2007, companies in India suffered average direct losses of Rs 6 crore due to fraud in 2005 and 2006. In addition, they faced management costs of another Rs 4 crore —almost twice that of the global average of Rs 2.2 crore.

Sachit Kumar, director of Globe Detective Agency, reports a hundred per cent increase in the business of planting operatives in companies to investigate pilferage, union activities, sabotage and information leaks in the last few years. “We once planted operatives who schemed with the top management to get involved in anti-management activities with some employees, suspected of pilfering. The operatives could get evidence against the employees, who were then caught red-handed.” Such operatives, he says, provide an “internal audit of the organisation — helping plug in the holes.”

The PWC survey found the typical perpetrator of fraud to be male, between the ages of 31 to 40, with a graduate degree and employed in the same position for three to five years. Members of senior management were responsible for 35 per cent of the frauds.

Kunwar Vikram Singh of Association of Private Detectives of India, has had many an MD caught by his undercover operatives. “Firms need something like an intelligence bureau, ” he says.

It’s not just background screening of employees that’s happening now, but also continuous screening. “All IT companies servicing one Fortune 500 company in India screen their employees every three months,” says Vineeta Singh, who heads Quetzal Verify Private Limited.
First Advantage Private Limited, that specialises in background checks, has introduced Infinity screening. “An annual check is essential to ensure employees remain background checked at all times,” says Ashish Dehade, MD (West Asia), First Advantage.

The ‘State of Security’ survey of IT managers in 450 organisations commissioned by Websense Inc, found that enterprises incur a productivity loss of about Rs. 160,000 per employee, due to the surfing of non-work related sites at work. Says Kishore Bhargava, “Whether it is your wallposts on Facebook or G-chats at work, everything can now be monitored.”

Working under the scanner can take its toll. “Spying can create huge distrust, especially in days of talent shortage. I won’t want to work in an organisation that spies on me,” says Anil Sachdev of HR consultancy Grow Talent.