Clamp down on fraud

The once yawning gap between the criminal activities of telephony fraudsters and the comms industry's ability to combat them is narrowing fast. Among those rising up against the criminals that have plagued the sector for years is BT Wholesale which has taken steps to provide resellers with real-time fraud detection and protection on its hosted platform.

On toll fraud, the industry is getting real. But talking more openly about the issue is one thing, how to deal with it is another. Enter BT Wholesale which has followed an analytical strategy and mounted a campaign to combat and contain telephony fraud with the deployment of Tollring's new real-time Credit and Fraud Management System (CFMS) on its Wholesale Hosted Centrex (WHC) platform. The move shows that BT is focusing on the analytical capabilities within the network, customer data and trends, and taking a proactive stance by anticipating what might happen.

"With greater intelligence and analytics we can bring our resellers and their customers into the conversation earlier," said Dave Axam (pictured), Director of Hosted Communications at BT Wholesale. "Everyone can be made aware of threshold alerts, they can react faster and be proactive in communicating with the customer. This is a differentiator and a confidence boost for end users. On education, we will be working with resellers to ensure they are comfortable about taking this message out to their customers. We also have a demo of the portal to show how easy and flexible it is to use."

The CFMS monitors call trends, implements rules and triggers alerts to protect resellers and their customers from illegal usage and bill shock. The credit management part of the solution constrains legitimate spend in order to manage risky customers. "Fraud and credit management is a powerful combination," added Axam. "Each call must pass through four rigorous gates including a risk register of continents, countries and regions, a blacklisted destinations register, followed by rule profiling before adhering to spend limits."

Education is also key, noted Axam, who advocates an open and honest discussion with customers based on the remedies available to prevent and address potential attacks by fraudsters. "We can help resellers to show customers how to stop this kind of fraud," he explained. "Resellers need to have a good understanding of their customers' PABX estate and then help to undertake proper security procedures, otherwise they are leaving the door wide open. As a first line of defence, resellers and end customers need to look at what they can do to combat fraud. The most common occurrence of fraud is on the PABX. Equipment is either left vulnerable to a penetration attack due to passwords being left to admin, or they are accessed physically."

Axam believes that SIP credential fraud is less of an issue and the responsibility of service providers to ensure that fit for purpose security controls are in place. Having embedded Tollring's intelligence and analytics tools into the network for hosted communications, BT Wholesale, for its part, is focused on eradicating fraud. "The intelligence gives our partners and their customers visibility of when fraud is occurring so they can stop it," added Axam. "By encouraging more education and applying intelligent analytics, providers can play a greater role in preventing fraud. But we need to ensure our new analytic tools are easy to use so more people use them and we all get better at preventing fraud."

Toll fraud remains a painful and emotive subject for customers, resellers and the industry, and Axam emphasised that the comms sector has a collective responsibility to do everything possible to wipe out this crime. Another weapon in the armoury is spend caps, a blunt and far from perfect tool. "From a reseller's perspective, the spend cap means there's never a big bill to be paid," said Axam. "But for the customer it means they might come in on a Monday morning and find that no phones are working. A great deal of activity is then required to get everything working again. Putting caps on spend also means that the provider and customer acknowledge that fraud is likely to occur."

In response to industry efforts to fight back, the fraudsters are always looking for new opportunities. A recent issue with spend caps is that smart fraudsters have realised that they can get away with taking smaller amounts that don't hit the spend caps and set off alarms, pointed out Axam. "They can just keep repeating the small ‘pick pocketing' calls and no one will notice," he added. "We have seen this pattern of traffic with an organisation in the hospitality trade. This is potentially the next wave of fraud and the hotel trade represents a big opportunity for fraudsters. This is where intelligent analysis is vital to spot such changes in patterns."

According to Axam, intelligent analytics is the only way to stop the next type of fraud, but the problem is that routes, destinations and numbers change - it's a dynamic and ever moving challenge. "Premium rates are a simple number set that can easily (and should) be blocked," he said. "You can keep blacklists but you are always looking for the next thing. You can also block known destinations but customers don't like to be limited. This is where analytics wins. It's dynamic enough to learn and adapt. If the volumes are beyond normal calling patterns you can give the customer the option to cut the traffic. The system is fluid and covers all the different elements and factors that will ultimately protect the end customer."