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Verizon Tackling Call Center Fraud

Despite this being the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the nation’s retailers have cranked up their marketing machines and already are offering “Black Friday” deals -- the crazy holiday season thrust upon us earlier than ever. Fraudsters are, no doubt, rubbing their hands together in glee.

With rampant shopping mania comes ripe opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage of the unwitting -- be they consumers or businesses. I recently heard a story about how a fraudster had set up a phony offer for Uggs last holiday season; as part of the scam, the fraudster co-opted the use of a toll-free customer service number employed by a real company -- Zumiez, an edgy skateboard/snowboard retailer. Zumiez only discovered that its phone number had been misappropriated for fraudulent transactions when it began receiving calls from the Uggs buyers asking why they hadn’t received the items that they’d purchased, Megan Miles, customer service manager at Zumiez, recounted at Talkdesk’s Opentalk 2018 conference earlier this month.

For a company that thrives on delivering an exceptional customer experience, having a customer service phone line jammed with calls from these irate Uggs shoppers was more than a little inconvenient. How could it serve its own customers if they couldn’t even get through to the call center? And, even though Zumiez was as much a victim as the Uggs shoppers, how would this incident tarnish its reputation?

With the help of the Talkdesk support team, Zumiez was able to launch an IVR within hours that routed its customers to agents who could help them with their questions and alerted the Uggs callers to contact their banks immediately -- but also let them speak to agents if they wanted, Miles said.

In other calling schemes, fraudsters use false credit information to order pricey goods or, in targeting financial institutions, set up fake accounts for transferring funds, for example. Simply put, “a lot of fraud starts in the call center,” said Alla Reznick, director of customer experience at Verizon, in a No Jitter briefing. “That’s where they want to get in and pretend they’re somebody else.”

As a global telecom company, Verizon itself is of course the target of considerable fraud and knows the struggle to stay ahead of illicit activity all too well, Reznick said. What’s more, she pointed out, many millions of toll-free calls traverse its IP network daily. Internally, as well as from its enterprise customers, it needed a better way of utilizing improved user authentication to detect fraud and prevent it from reaching the call center, she said.

Toward that end, Verizon Enterprise Solutions last week introduced a cloud-based solution that combines authentication and anti-fraud protection for call centers on its network. For this new VoIP Inbound Anti-Fraud and Authentication solution, Verizon uses a SIP forking technique to split off the media stream from the audio, Reznick said. While the audio passes along to the call center, the media stream is passed to Verizon partner Pindrop Security for authentication. Callers identify themselves by voice rather than password, and call centers receive a rating on the caller’s authenticity.

Enterprise call centers can decide how to use the information gathered via this solution based on their fraud tolerance thresholds, Reznick added. “Red” tagged calls would typically go to select group of agents trained in fraud prevention, while “yellow” and “green” marked calls would trigger distinct scripts for the general agent pool, for example. For a yellow flagged call, the agent might be prompted: “Ask Alla Reznick for her mother’s maiden name. The caller sounds like Alla, and the call uses DTMF tones, but the call originates from a different number than we have for her.”

Overall, call centers should be able to improve the customer experience on top of addressing fraud and authentication challenges, Reznick said. “If I don’t have to spell out my mother’s maiden name [because my identity has been verified by voice], it’s a good day,” she said. “It makes a big difference to the customer if the agent can answer the phone with a, ‘Hello, Alla Reznick.’ – and it shaves precious minutes on the enterprise side if the agents can just get to the matter at hand.”

Additionally, because the media and audio streams are split, should the authentication service suffer a failure, the voice call isn’t affected. Not having the authentication is a nuisance, but is better than the call being dropped, Reznick said.

Verizon’s VoIP Inbound Anti-Fraud and Authentication solution is generally available, and already in use by two financial services institutions, Reznick said.