Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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February 24, 2014

Phone Fraud: Now It's Personal!

One recent Sunday evening, I received a call on my mobile phone from a number with a 374 area code. I did not recognize this number, and it wasn't in my stored contacts. I answered the call, and there was that brief pause that alerted me it was likely a mass marketing call. I was getting ready to launch into my standard "No, thank you, and this number is on the Do Not Call registry, so please don't call again," when a female voice with a strong foreign accent identified herself as a representative from the Microsoft Windows Security Center. "Microsoft" and "security" are two words that are likely to grab anyone's attention quickly, so I stopped myself. She then asked me to verify that I had a computer running Microsoft Windows. I mean, who doesn't but the most diehard Apple user? All kinds of warning bells were sounding in my head, but I played along to see where this routine was going.

In a recent post, I wrote about the growing problem of criminals targeting bank call centers. Well, criminals target consumers, too. Sometimes the callers claim to be representatives of the consumer's financial institution, and they try to get account or payment card information. I ended the post post with descriptions of some of the new technology being used to fight against this type of fraud. Unfortunately, most consumers don't have access to the technology the banks do to help identify the fraudsters.

But back to my call. The caller informed me that the Microsoft Windows Security Center had received a message that my computer was infected with a virus. She added that the Security Center had a download available to remove the virus and protect my computer, it would cost only $19.99, and she could take payment over the phone with a credit card. I asked which of my computers sent the message because I didn't want to pay to have the download put on noninfected computers. My response seemed to confuse her. But then she said that the download could be installed on up to three computers at no additional charge—what a bargain! I then told her a security scan the night before had found nothing wrong and I didn't believe she was from Microsoft, and I hung up. When I tried to trace the phone number, I learned there is no 374 area code in the United States, but 374 is Armenia's country code.

While the earlier post showed the need for financial institutions to use a cross-channel fraud mitigation strategy, we must always keep in mind that consumers are also under frequent attack. As we at Portals and Rails have stated many times, continuing education is a vital factor in helping customers protect their money, and this experience only reinforces that need. I was informed enough to sniff this call out for the scam that it was, but would my 84-year-old mother-in-law have been as savvy? Maybe I should give her a call to make sure!

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 24, 2014 in consumer fraud, phone fraud | Permalink


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February 18, 2014

The Mythical End State of Security

As a proponent of secure payments, I am happy to see the EMV (chip card technology) discussion take center stage with national media outlets and on the Hill after the recent revelation of data breaches involving payment card data at merchants. Having written and spoken extensively on the benefits (as well as the shortcomings) of migrating to the EMV standard here in the United States, I am a strong believer in EMV's ability to reduce counterfeit card-present fraud. But I do feel that a bigger story is getting lost in these EMV discussions—that of payment card data security.

Security approaches are not static, but must be constantly improving and evolving, thanks in large part to a rapidly changing technology environment and evolving tactics of criminals. A solution that is implemented today will more than likely become obsolete or in need of additional investment to remain viable in the future. There is no "end state" when it comes to security. A wait-and-see approach for this hypothetical end state is flawed.

Consider my home security system to which I recently added video monitoring capabilities. This addition to my system made my upgrade to glass-breaking sensors several years ago seem like a bad investment. But had I waited for the camera technology, perhaps I would have suffered the same fate of several of my neighbors who ended up with bad guys breaking windows to gain entrance into an empty house. And though I feel better protected now than I was several years ago, I realize that it is inevitable that another upgrade with additional costs will be necessary in due time to best protect my property and family.

EMV is a solution ready to have a positive and immediate impact on reducing the value of stolen card data. And because of that, I am an advocate for its adoption in the United States according to the adoption plans set by the card networks. However, EMV alone does not provide complete protection of card data, and stolen card data retains value to fraudsters even in an EMV world. Magnetic stripes will not disappear overnight with a migration to EMV. (The UK began their migration in earnest seven years ago and mag stripes are still commonly found on their cards.) And stolen card data can easily be used in the card-not-present environment.

The payment industry must strive to secure payments data so that data stolen from breaches cannot be exploited for monetary value by criminals. Until the industry does that, it is reasonable to believe that data breaches and the subsequent effort to monetize the information will continue. EMV is a step in the right direction, but it is not the final and only step. EMV will be costly to implement. It will not and cannot be the final investment spent on securing card payments.

Douglas A. KingBy Douglas A. King, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 18, 2014 in chip-and-pin, EMV, innovation | Permalink


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The largest drawback to EMV is the cost; I recently read that it would cost over eight billion dollars to change the current U.S. payment infrastructure to an EMV system. In your example, the camera system was a home security option that wasn’t feasible several years ago because of price and technology issues. Could it be possible that something like PayPal’s new payment method is a more logical step to address card security for the time being? PayPal’s payment code system is able to work with retailers existing barcode scanners and pin pads and provides more security to POS transactions than a mag-strip. This would allow for increased card security, at a reasonable cost, while the industry decides what the next best option is.

Posted by: Karen Gordon | March 17, 2014 at 12:42 PM


Like you, I'm glad to see that the key participants and contributors to the US payment system are recognizing the need for improvement in card data security and considering how EMV might help. I also support your contention that EMV is neither a comprehensive nor final solution. Why isn't the Fed taking a proactive role to research solutions that would eliminate the capture and transfer of card data and thus remove the risks from the points of sale altogether? There are already some interesting products in the marketplace that enable this approach and it seems a better investment for the short and long term.

Posted by: Gary Yamamura | February 18, 2014 at 10:10 PM

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February 10, 2014

Chip-and-PIN, or Chip-and-Choice?

If the comments that legislators and industry representatives made at the recent congressional hearings on data breaches were any indication, any card issuer advocating or adopting a chip-and-signature approach to EMV smartcard implementation would appear to be incautious. Unquestionably, chip-and-PIN is more secure than chip-and-signature because it represents two forms of authentication—something you have (the card) and something you know (the PIN). However, chip-and-signature could be a reasonable first step in that it would generate less friction for the consumer, merchant, and card issuer. Let me explain why.

Most consumers don't know their credit card PINs
Although most people know their debit card PINs—you need one to use an ATM—few U.S. consumers know their credit card PINs. Various studies place consumers' knowledge of their credit card PINs in the 5 to 10 percent range. It would therefore be an educational as well as logistical effort to get consumers to begin using their credit card PINs if the industry moved to a chip-and-PIN-only environment.

Merchants would incur a big expense for the equipment
Only about 25 percent of the 8 million POS terminals operating in the United States are equipped with a PIN pad, according to data provided to the Federal Reserve. Before Regulation II, merchants had a financial incentive to encourage PIN-based debit transactions because the interchange rate was lower than for credit card transactions. However, Reg II eliminated this differential. (This despite the fact that PIN debit transactions have less than one-third of the fraud loss rate of signature debit transactions, according to the 2013 Fed Payments Study Summary.) Although a representative of the National Retail Federation endorsed a chip-and-PIN-only strategy at a congressional hearing, it's difficult to know if merchants will want to make the additional investment required to equip, program, and maintain their POS systems to support PIN transactions. Most merchants have not yet taken this step, so what has changed?

Customer experience would change
A PIN-based transaction, with its single-message authorization and settlement process, creates problems for certain merchants—like car rental and lodging companies—that must run preauthorization transactions before the final amount of the transaction is determined. The separate authorization and settlement process provided by the dual-message format of a signature-based transaction is more conducive to the business needs of these merchant segments. Are fine dining restaurants going to install the even more expensive mobile payment terminals so customers can pay at the table as they currently do? Or will they require the customer to go to a checkout and pay there? These merchants especially will have to consider the impact on their customer experience.

Backup method needed
With debit cards now, a signature authentication can be a backup method of acceptance. But in a chip-and-PIN environment, how high will the rate of incomplete transactions be when cardholders can't remember their PINs and they have no other method of payment?

As with any change, there are a number of positives and negatives to be considered. To avoid unintended consequences, we at Portals and Rails believe that issuers, merchants, and consumer groups should carefully evaluate all the issues to determine the best way to migrate to EMV payment cards. What do you think—chip-and-PIN only or chip-and-choice?

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 10, 2014 in chip-and-pin, data security, debit cards, EMV | Permalink


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All issuers should support a well communicated and simple PIN change process (IVR, ATM or inbranch for example) for EMV cards. If cards are activated through an IVR; PIN selection could be added to the process. Cards can also be issued with unassigned PINs (the PIN is not sent to the cardholder) where the cardholder is forced to select a PIN; this process may encourage cardholders to proactively select a PIN they can remember. Re-issued cards can support PIN continuity (same PIN as previous card).

Support for PIN as the only permitted CVM will be more successful if ALL the card associations follow this practice. If one or more of them allow for signature CVM then cardholders may select the signature card and not bother to learn/select a PIN for the PINned card. This in turn leads to an uneven playing field and all chip cards may eventually revert to signature cards which would certainly be a step backwards.

As long as fallback to magstripe is supported, any cardholder that forgets their PIN can usually have the terminal revert to mag stripe (at least in Canada) by inserting the card backwards (you may have to do this three times). The terminal will attempt to read the chip (but can't because there is plastic where a chip should be) then ask for a mag stripe read while ignoring the service code (chip on board) info.

Posted by: M Ryan | February 11, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Your points are all valid, but I'd like to comment.

You are correct that most consumers don't know their credit card PINs and this would be a learning experience. Some POS application developers are putting in "PIN Bypass" functionality for this reason, although I believe that defeats the purpose of allowing the issuer to prefer PIN.

Merchants will incure some expense for migrating to EMV, but most EMV Card Readers are built into PIN pads, so with or without PIN, the expense is the same.

PIN based Credit transactions will continue to be dual message. PIN Debit transaction sre single message because they are "full financial" transactions that don't require a separate message.

EMV works perfectly fine with Hotels in the rest of the world, with incremental transactions after the original with PIN.

Yes, in Canada and Europe it is common for the customer to pay at the table with a wireless terminal. This supports the philosophy of "not handing your card to a stranger" that was promoted in those countries to support the implementation of EMV.

Yes, there will be a period of adjustment, perhaps painful - but not really much different than when PIN Debit at the POS was first introduced, just a larger scale.

Unfortunately, the more secure a process is, the less convenient it is. The U.S. has chosen convenience in the past, and we are seeing the repercussions of that approach.

Posted by: Allen Friedman | February 10, 2014 at 02:13 PM

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February 3, 2014

Call Center Phone Fraud: Are You Really Who You Say You Are?

"Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?" Lily Tomlin would use this line whenever she would play her character Ernestine the telephone operator on the classic TV comedy show "Laugh-In." But to the thousands of financial institutions that operate call centers, the question of whether their customer service representatives are talking to an actual customer is no laughing matter.

In a recent report on call center phone fraud, Pindrop Security cites a number of alarming statistics based on their clients' actual experiences: one in every 2,500 calls to a call center is fraudulent; the average fraud loss per call received is $0.57; and the average potential loss to an account from phone fraud is more than $42,000. It seems that the call center has become an increasingly attractive target for fraudsters.

A call from someone not authorized to access the bank account in question may not directly result in a financial loss on that call. In fact, Pindrop's research indicates that it takes an average of five calls before the fraudster gathers enough information to strike. They use those preliminary calls to gain account or customer information that will help them subsequently to generate a fraudulent transaction, whether it's through the call center or another channel. Some of the calls are from criminals who are simply trying to get account information such as credit and debit card information that they can sell to others. Some of the calls attempts to change account settings such as statement mailing address or call-back phone numbers. With a simple address change, the criminal can gain more information about the accountholder and also keep the victim from being alerted to fraud on their account. Often, a call that results in a direct loss occurs when the fraudster obtains sufficient account credentials to generate a fraudulent wire transfer or ACH transfer from the targeted account.

While these criminals might be looked at as "low-tech hackers" compared to the sophisticated hackers who probe computer systems or worse, the evidence from law enforcement shows that these groups are just as well-organized and sophisticated. They are often based outside the United States, which makes investigations and prosecutions difficult. Sometimes they use technology to change their voice or to show a fake phone number on the bank's caller ID system. The fake phone number helps the fake caller avoid suspicion when the call is coming from outside the customer's area of residence.

To address this growing attack vector, financial institutions are adopting new technology to help them detect potentially fraudulent calls. Voice biometric technology can detect altered voices or even compare the caller's voice to a database to verify the caller's legitimacy. In addition, phone call and device "fingerprinting" gathers enough information from the caller's device to allows the call to be scored, just like a card transaction, on how likely it is to be fraudulent.

It is clear that criminals are attacking all physical and virtual channels of banks, sometimes using information obtained through one channel to carry out fraud in another channel. Portals and Rails believes it is important that you approach your fraud mitigation strategy from a cross-channel perspective. Please let us hear about your challenges and successes with such efforts.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

February 3, 2014 in authentication, banks and banking, consumer protection | Permalink


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