Resolve to Step Up Anti-Fraud Efforts in the New Year

If the world has learned anything from this past year, it's how difficult it is to make predictions: The 2020 we expected on Dec. 31, 2019, is unrecognizably different from the year the world has endured.

Customer service providers the world over sent their workers home and rapidly developed best practices for telecommuting, all the while coping with a need to hire, train, and deploy more agents as call volumes spiked. According to Forrester Research, there's been a 42 percent year-over-year increase in contact center call volumes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to social distancing requirements, phone interactions are more frequent and more urgent than ever, which makes the continued realities of fraud and phishing so uniquely dangerous these days. One prediction I'd stake my life on: Fraud won't stop in 2021, and customer service representatives should react accordingly. They should improve security and monitoring of interactive voice response (IVR) systems, update contact center agents on new trends in fraud, and educate customers.

Enhance IVR Protections.

IVRs aren't an obvious front in the war against fraud and identity theft, but they are an increasingly important one. The Forrester study on financial center fraud determined that 76 percent of institutions had identified scammers using IVR channels to mine customer data. Because today's fraudsters use sophisticated cross-channel methods, the IVR will almost never be their final stop (rather, it's a stop on the way to committing future fraud attacks). There is, however, a surprising upside to IVR attacks. Analysis of past breaches shows that fraudulent transactions usually occur within about two weeks of IVR data mining. That means that if a fraudulent IVR call is detected while it's happening instead of after the fact, institutions could stop an incursion or theft before it happens by increasing security or locking down an account. In cases of fraud, forewarned is forearmed. It's no wonder that the Forrester study found that 78 percent of decision-makers mentioned IVR fraud prevention as their number one contact center priority.

Keep Agents Apprised.

Customer experience is a challenge for any contact center operation; in the best of times, customers often make calling a last resort, worried as they are about poorly designed interfaces, long hold times, repetitive muzak, and frayed tempers. More recently, ever-present pandemic stress and Zoom fatigue make the prospect of dialing in even more unwelcome. Any good contact center agent wants to keep callers happy and resolve their troubles quickly, but every once in a while, these good intentions lead to bad results. Where once one in every 3,000 calls was fraudulent, today one in every 600 callsis, and scammers are improving their methods every day, with tools like voice deepfakes. While we can't expect contact center agents to correctly assess all false calls, since the best fraudsters are extremely convincing and the vast majority of customers that agents service are legitimate, increased education and training can help. If bad actors have new techniques, the agents who are the first line of defense against them should know what they face and how to implement security without causing additional stress to innocent callers.

Savvy Customers Are Safe Customers.

Incorporating IVR monitoring tools and educating agents are both necessary, but it's also important to keep customers up to date on trends in fraud. Now, your average customer doesn't need to know what IVR stands for or what comprises an omnichannel attack, but simple explanations in everyday language can go a long way toward keeping them and their information safe. Most every security professional I know has at least one story of saving a friend or relative from an expensive mistake with a scammer. Letting customers know what information, like PINs and passwords you won't ask for, or reminding them about spoofed emails and calls, can eliminate a large percentage of fraud. Customers shouldn't be intimidated with stories of super-hackers, but they should be informed.

Looking Ahead

Just a third of the financial institutions that Forrester profiled believed they had contact center fraud under control. That's a sobering figure, but the survey also shows cause for optimism. With more than half of respondents seeing fraud make an increased impact on their bottom line, institutions are investing in new tools, like advanced machine learning for identifying fraud attempts, to preserve their businesses, protect consumers, and stop fraud in its tracks. Whatever surprises the next year might hold, security decision makers can be sure that fraudsters won't go away until we kick them out. With improved infrastructure, new tools, and more education, 2021 can be a worse year for fraudsters and a better year for everyone else.

Mark Horne is chief marketing officer at Pindrop.