Fraud is one of those things that you don’t hear much about these days. Other less ominous online crimes like hacking and identity theft seem to get a lot more press.
Yet fraud continues to plague all communications service providers around the world.
Those perpetrating fraud are constantly looking for weaknesses in systems and expose them, focused in finding different ways of committing their crimes and testing different targets in their quest for success.
When they find these they don’t tell the world to prove how clever they are, they simply expose the weakness to others willing to pay for the service, even though those buying may not be aware that the activity is fraudulent.
SIM box fraud is the one we hear most about amongst telcos and even though easy to spot the sheer volume of activity makes it difficult to close down.
Reports show that mobile operators and governments are losing up to US$150 million every year to SIM box fraudsters alone who illegally terminate international calls as local calls.
As soon as one number is identified and blocked another thousand could appear. It’s a never-ending task.
Long distance and overseas calls have long been the preferred target, despite the uptake of low or no cost voice services like Skype.
But with content and digital service providers now offering so many valuable converged and digital services online they are become increasingly popular targets.
While it is impossible to quantify the telecoms fraud that is happening, the last industry report from Juniper Research in 2011 estimated it to be in excess of €43.5 billion, operators remain constantly vigilant hoping to track it down before it costs them too much in lost revenue.
The key focus these days is to look at not simply discovering and exposing fraud after it happens but to try and prevent it happening in the first place.
Proactively looking for patterns exposed in previous frauds, utilizing big data and even referring to external sources for data are part of the new arsenal.
Some operators, like Telecom Italia, have discovered patterns of fraudulent activity in certain demographic areas where customers live and they heighten their awareness and system alarms to match.
Despite countless checks made before new services are released, fraudsters will inevitably find a way to take advantage if the target can earn them enough revenue and go for as long as possible without being exposed.
A father and son team in Australia was recently caught selling 10,000 unauthorised set-top boxes programmed to provide access to stolen pay TV channels through an illegal system that used the internet to ‘hack’ into encoded broadcasts.
Despite the maturity of fraud detection and resolution systems the lack of maturity in the new digital services market is proving to be a happy hunting ground for fraudsters, ever quick to capitalize.
Although there are some countries where cooperation between service providers in sharing fraud activities is condoned, in others it is deemed illegal.
TUFF in the UK strives to identify and define fraud methods and form strategic alliances with consumer bodies and intermediate service providers. TMForum Fraud Group, GSMA FF and FIINA, foster this type of collaboration at a global scale.
My own company, WeDo, has suggested feeding fraud incidents anonymously from its many installed systems to a central repository that could instantly update other systems or be accessed by service providers.
This would be an ideal way to combat fraudsters that simply move their activities from one place to another, seemingly one step ahead of detection and the law.
Until we can get a grip on how serious fraud has become and enterprises stop being in denial, we will not be able to put up a viable joint defence.
After all, there is strength in numbers, ask the fraudsters themselves.