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Beating crooks at call center fraud


The use of textual, digital and web-based communication is rising as financial institutions across the spectrum fend off competition and adapt to trends in consumer behavior. From local credit unions to multi-national megabanks, a consistently positive customer experience is a proven link to brand loyalty. This universal need fuels the rapid growth of omnichannel contact centers, where service and support representatives can effectively manage interactions on any communication channel, from any device.

While great for those of us who prefer to engage our banks and institutional partners by chat, email or text instead of a phone call, the digital channel explosion has also attracted the attention of fraudsters—evidenced by the increased frequency of attacks through call centers.

Alarming data from ACI Worldwide shows that in 2017, fraud rates spiked 30 percent from 2016, with identity theft (via data breaches), account takeover (including phishing attacks) and friendly fraud (chargebacks) the most prevalent threats. Aite Group’s findings that 61 percent of fraud can be traced back to the contact center are equally concerning, as is its prediction that contact center fraud loss will double by 2020.

In May 2017, Sam Boyer of Insurance Business Magazine reported on how these charlatans, feigning customers, coerce and confuse customer service representatives (CSRs) into providing funds access. Scammers flood contact center agents with a barrage of fraudulent interactions to infiltrate protected account information.

“With social engineering,” wrote Boyer, “scammers will research a target customer and do background about where they live, where they went to school, their family connections, workplace, geography near their home—all things that can be searched online, but all things that might be asked in security questions over the phone. If a scammer is able to get most of these correct, then the call center operator may end up believing them.”

But as Aite Group also noted, it doesn’t end with voice; fraud is a cross-channel problem.

Addressing three key challenges

What can a well-equipped omnichannel customer service center do to provide a more secure and protected system for their customers? Let’s explore some key challenges first.

Challenge 1: Bolster customer identification. Contact center agents are taught to use Knowledge Based Authentication (KBA) questions to verify callers’ identity. In theory, their access to customer information should stump impostors based on the response to questions such as “What is your mother’s maiden name?” However, these methods of verification may not be as secure as they once were—as so much of this information is available on social media or other publicly accessible sites.

So what options can securely and reliably identify a customer? Many financial institutions turn to one or more of the following options:

Access from a trusted device. Once a customer is reliably authenticated, the use of a device-specific marker such as a cookie can pair the device with a secure login, thus increasing likelihood of continuing secure connections.

Multi-factor authentication. If a customer has registered multiple contact methods, this provides an opportunity to validate the customer via two or more access points. For example, a customer coming through a website may have to also provide a code texted to their mobile phone to gain access.

Use of biometric information. More options can now authenticate users via information specific to their biology. Fingerprint or retinal scan access on a specific device are gaining prevalence but may not present an option if the hardware isn’t available. So organizations are turning to voice biometrics (audio waveform matching from common phrases) to enable secure access from phones and WebRTC-enabled websites.

Challenge 2: Understand customer history. Surprisingly, many financial services firms do not provide their agents with a complete history of a customer’s interactions during service engagements. Nobody likes to repeat themselves or wait while a representative fumbles from application to application, trying to find the resources to resolve an issue. In the context of banking, or any financial setting, tensions run high and customer patience is rare.

Historical data is essential and should provide agents with details of transactions, previous support interactions (across every channel) and their resolutions, account balance alerts, payment reminders and more. This 360-degree visibility forms the foundation of true omnichannel service and a gateway to fully understanding a customer’s journey. Not only does this insight provide the agent with the necessary context to vet the person on the other end of the line: It also facilitates better customer experiences.

How do you pull this off? A complete, connected customer journey can be created through a single omnichannel contact center management system. This journey is informed by customer transactional data but connected by a unified interaction management framework.

Challenge 3: Manage quality continually. A well-structured service organization tracks and improves the quality and continuity of agent-customer interactions on an ongoing basis. Like any process, the key is to continuously measure and improve secure communications.

How? Recording interactions in a financial institution is most often associated with regulatory compliance to ensure documentation and proof of business practices and transactions. But it’s also about quality management and workforce optimization: a systematic approach of listening to and evaluating customer interactions. To be valuable, quality management systems must also be omnichannel—covering voice and digital communications. Effective platforms provide flexible definition of evaluation templates; the ability to evaluate across chained or connected interactions; and customizable reporting and metrics to coach and improve agents.

In more advanced environments, real-time speech analytics tools can be employed to discover key phrases or conversations showing emotional stress, and to flag conversations for later analysis.

Putting it all together: From fraud persistence to security insistence

Research shows financial institution contact centers lose an average of 57 cents to fraud for each incoming call—and that one in every 2,900 calls is fraudulent. That’s a big number from a fraud specialist’s point of view but for most contact center agents, that represents maybe one fraud call per month.

While that tally may seem inconsequential, underestimating the resolve of these predators is unwise. On average they make five scouting calls before trying any funds transfer. According to the aforementioned research, “they might request a password reset, address or email change to lock down an account prior to complete takeover. This means the average contact center agent can expect to encounter only one or two calls a year with a fraudster requesting a fraudulent money transfer, making it even tougher to decipher real from fake.”

Financial institutions have since heightened security against such attacks: investing heavily in technology that proactively neutralizes threats. The contact center security sector has become a multi-billion dollar industry, focused entirely on suppressing the criminal activity of fraudsters.

With the right quality management and security systems in place, call center agents can focus on their primary jobs: helping customers and improving the organization’s financial opportunities. Putting those measures in place means that the next time fraudsters think they have your number, you’ll be free to respond, “Sorry, wrong number.”

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John Cray is vice president of product management for Enghouse Interactive.

For more articles like this one, check out our recent Executive Report: Fraud and cybersecurity: Staying steps ahead.