Mitigating Online Payment Fraud for Corporate Treasurers

The digitization of the global economy has been matched by a growing threat from economic criminals. As technology develops, there has been a proportionate increase in online and technology-enabled fraud. Digitalization has allowed fraud to become “industrialized”.

Online Payment Fraud describes fraud conducted using online services and digital technology. Fraudsters may use emails, websites, malicious software or other digital tools to steal personal details or money. On-line Payment Fraud is often cyber-enabled, which happens when technology like computers and networks are used to advance the fraud.

Online Payment Fraud is the most commonly experienced crime in many countries already, criminals turn to Online Payment Fraud because it can be conducted cheaply, at pace and without fear of likely or successful prosecution.

The scale and volume of Online Payment Fraud is complex to measure and difficult to compare with fraud rates in other countries. Data appears scarce and is compounded by challenges linked to under-reporting. However, estimates of the impact of other types of fraud by country do exist. Using the Global Anti-Scam Alliance data, there was an estimate of US$55.3billions lost in online payment fraud worldwide in 2021, which represents a 17% increase from 2020.

Corporate Treasurers are top target for cyber-criminals because it’s where the money is. Treasury’s trove of personal and corporate data, its authority to make payments and move large amounts of cash quickly make it an appealing choice for discerning fraudsters.

Treasurers manage technology-heavy infrastructure that sits outside the IT department. They feel more vulnerable than ever and while cloud-based integrated systems have delivered efficiencies, they have also created new risks. The main threats for Corporate treasurers are:

  • Impersonation attack: The fraudster manages to assume the identity of one of the legitimate parties in a business transaction by e.g. tricking a customer into making a bill payment to a manipulated invoice account or requesting a Bank account change that is not the account of the actual creditor but the account of the fraudster.

  • Man in the middle: Modification of a payment order where the fraudster intercepts and modifies a legitimate payment order at some point during the electronic communication between the payer’s device and the payment service provider (for instance through malware or attacks allowing attackers to eavesdrop on the communication between two legitimately communicating hosts - man-in-the middle attacks) or modifies the payment instruction in the payment service provider’s system before the payment order is cleared and settled.

  • Business Email Compromise (BEC) also known as CEO fraud: Use of hacked or spoofed e-mail address to gain access to other parties for fraudulent purposes: Corporate or publicly available email accounts of executives or high-level employees related to finance or involved with wire transfer payments are either spoofed or compromised through keyloggers or phishing attacks to do fraudulent transfers.

Definition of fraud

Fraud is defined as follows:

  • “Unauthorised payment transactions made, including as a result of the loss, theft or misappropriation of sensitive payment data or a payment instrument, whether detectable or not to the payer prior to a payment and whether or not caused by gross negligence of the payer or executed in the absence of consent by the payer (‘unauthorised payment transactions’)”

  • “Payment transactions made as a result of the payer being manipulated by the fraudster to issue a payment order, or to give the instruction to do so to the payment service provider, in good-faith, to a payment account it believes belongs to a legitimate payee (‘manipulation of the payer’).” Payment transactions made as a result of the payer being manipulated by the fraudster to issue a payment order are often referred to as scams.

When making a forensic analysis of the 3 main types of fraud mentioned above, we discover that in all cases the transfer is requested by a fraudster impersonating a trusted company and the funds can be hard to recover due to its seemingly authorized status. Since bank transfers are executed just with a valid IBAN or bank account number, other factors stated in the payment order like Beneficiary Name, LEI, Country, Address, etc, will not be considered by the bank receiving the funds.

Automated Confirmation of Payee is a bank account and name checking service. When setting up a new payment, the bank MUST check also the name of the company, against the actual name held on the account.

Recognized as a particularly valuable tool in combatting fraud, confirmation of payee (CoP) is designed to stop online payment fraud and accidentally misdirected payments by simply checking whether the name of the payee's account matches the name and account details provided by a payer.

The European Payments Council recommends in its Payments Threat and Fraud Report to implement CoP services for mitigating this type of authorized pushed payments fraud. The European Central Bank also recommends implementing both a centralized and harmonized scheme for a pan-European IBAN-NAME check. EAB CLEARING is announcing that they will enrich SEPA payments by implementing a Fraud Pattern and Anomaly Detection solution which will include CoP.

Automated CoP has been successfully implemented in UK by Payment System Regulator, in the Nordics by the Nordic Payment Council, in the Netherlands by the AFM, with nearly 99.5% of domestic payments being subject to a CoP-style check, which validates the international bank account number (IBAN) and is known as the "IBAN name check”. In the EU has been proposed only for Instant Payments so far.

Conclusion

CoP has proven to be an effective tool for preventing fraud, In the Netherland, just 9 months after implementation, they reported a 70% drop in invoice fraud and 50% less transfers to the wrong account. But unfortunately, this only applies to domestic payments. We, Corporate Treasurers, need to advocate for a broader adoption of CoP all across Europe and eventually all across the world. Not only for Instant and Domestic Payments but also for Cross Border Payments.

We must challenge our banks and request this extra safety net for a safer on-line payment environment.

 

Guillermo De La Fuente
Member Board Of Directors
ACTSR (Association of Corporate Treasurers Suisse Romande)

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