Criminals in British prisons are being paid to phone up unsuspecting members of the public and ask them about their valuables.
Inmates including convicted burglars are earning £20 a week phoning householders to ask if they would like to save money on their home insurance, it has been revealed.
The Ministry of Justice has confirmed prisoners are working as call centre operatives at at HMP Oakwood in Wolverhampton and HMP Drake Hall in Staffordshire as part of a new scheme launched two months ago.
There, inmates are being employed to read from a script which includes asking potential customers their names, postcodes and the total value of their possessions.
The Sun said that inmates – who do not reveal they are behind bars – telephone householders and ask them about their financial details on behalf of market research companies.
"This may have put hundreds of homes’ security at risk," a shocked source told the newspaper.
Prisoners are not allowed to take in writing material and do not have access to the internet at the centres.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said they "do not want prisoners sitting idle in their cells," and that the new scheme – launched two months ago – will help them work towards their rehabilitation.
"All prisoners working in call centres are risk assessed and stringent security measures are in place, with calls supervised and recorded," a spokesman said.
However, last night Peter Cuthbertson, of the Centre for Crime Prevention, said: "Trusting criminals with people’s financial details is incredibly naive. Burglars will know who to target when they are released."
Labour MP Keith Vaz also slammed the scheme, saying: "This is not work prisoners should be involved in."
HMP Drake Hall has been a prison for women since the 1970s, while HMP Oakwood, which is now run privately by security firm G4S, is a prison for men.
The MOJ announced plans to pay prisoners to work in call centres last year to enable them to learn new skills.