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Digital payments fuelling fraud surge during COVID crisis

Digital payments are fuelling a multibillion-dollar fraud surge worldwide, according to new research from SAS. 

The report, The Escalation of Digital Fraud: Impacts of the Coronavirus on Global Fraud Challenges, says that during coronavirus-driven lockdowns and social distancing, proliferating mobile apps and online channels have proven vital lifelines. US mobile banking grew 50% in the first half of 2020, new registrations spiking 200% in April alone. Burgeoning online shopping and contactless payments propelled record e-commerce sales. 

This momentous digital shift has provided salvation in a time of crisis but it is also fuelling a multibillion-dollar fraud surge worldwide. 

Adapting mitigation efforts for a new normal

The report is based on independent interviews of payment and security executives from 20 countries in five regions North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia Pacific. Javelin conducted the interviews between January and September 2020. The research helped capture the pre-pandemic landscape through the various stages of pandemic shutdowns and early recovery efforts.

"The impacts of this fraud wave are being felt in much different ways due to accelerating digital payments adoption throughout the world," says Stu Bradley, Vice president of the global Fraud and Security Intelligence Division at SAS.

"Effectively combating the issue requires leveraging a wider set of digital data and a hybrid, multilayered approach to making decisions through the pandemic and far beyond. Advanced analytics is the common denominator that provides agility for whats yet to come."                                                           

Among the study's key findings and recommendations:

  • Digital payments present an escalating global risk. Though prevalent payment technologies vary by region, fraud trends have significant commonalities across geographies. This indicates that criminals coordinate and share information more openly than do financial institutions, giving them a significant advantage in thwarting fraud controls. Cross-border fraud is increasingly common.
  • Digital fraud is increasing in frequency and sophistication. Fraudsters and criminal networks arsenal of tricks is becoming as advanced as the technologies used to detect their activities. Social engineering, phishing and identity schemes, and the breadth of digital payment methods are shifting the odds in the bad guys favour. Organisations should be aware that new payment mechanisms are especially targeted due to ineffective risk mitigation controls at launch.
  • Financial services organisations need layered technology and analytic capabilities to identify overlapping threats in real time. The complexity of criminals attack vectors demands a layered approach to preventing and detecting fraud, while also having a means to orchestrate strategies and investigation activities. Automated actions and predictive case management powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning can help reduce reliance on staff to monitor fraud activity and increase efficiency.
  • Data is critical. Using data for real-time analytics and automated actions will be crucial to thriving in this new digital normal. Capabilities will vary based on technological maturity, but organisations at all stages have a common need for as much real-time data as possible to make effective decisions. Importantly, deploying cloud infrastructure for fraud management systems boosts data ingestion capabilities.

Managing risk during payment transformation

The transformation of payments both in existing and new methods requires financial institutions to understand all payment entry points. Protecting those entry points from digital fraud is considerably more complicated.

"The move from omnichannel to multichannel, combined with the sophisticated nature of tools criminals have available to them, provides a road map for financial institutions to build their near- and longer-term fraud mitigation strategies," says Krista Tedder, Head of Payments at Javelin Strategy & Research. 

"Without technology and operational improvements, financial institutions face significant reputational damage and financial losses," she says.

"While some improvements can be deployed quickly for more immediate relief, other advances will take months or years to develop," Tedder says. 

"The critical first steps are to start processing all data streams in real time and to combine identity management and transaction monitoring to not only identity fraud that has occurred, but to stop it even before it occurs. The financial services industry as a whole needs to better utilise available artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies."