Holiday Season Cons: More Calls Mean More Fraud For Contact Centers

No news probably isn’t good news when it comes to call center fraud during the holidays.

IntraNext CEO Patrick Brown told Karen Webster in a recent interview that he had yet to hear any holiday horror stories from retail clients or read any online, but Brown says it’s unlikely that means call center fraud isn’t going on this December.

Rather, he said, this is probably the calm before the January storm, when consumers will review their credit card statements and begin to identify unauthorized charges, and when the wave of chargebacks begins to crest.

As much as Brown would like to be more optimistic, he’s seen the stats, and they aren’t pretty. One in 491 retail contact center calls have shown to be fraudulent, according to a report by anti-fraud and call center authentication solution provider Pindrop – and that report was compiled in 2016, before masses of consumer data were hacked and put up for sale on the dark web.

Brown considers what these retailers have historically done to brace for the holiday spike in calls – and the concurrent spike in fraud – as well as how they must adjust their thinking for a new retail ecosystem.

Brown said it is unclear whether call centers are lagging, or whether they simply don’t feel the pressure. A recent Calabrio report shows that many companies are placing high priority on the customer experience, but not as much focus on improving data security.


When call volume spikes for a season, as it does during the holidays, many retailers turn to service bureaus and business process outsourcers (BPOs) to fill in the gaps. That gets bodies on the other end of the line as thousands of extra calls flood into the center. In that case, all the retailer has to do is give the bureau or the BPO a brand and a script to work with.

Other retailers are more deliberate about breaking up the work and assigning it, ensuring that complex calls are handled by those with the correct level of training. Centers that take in a smaller volume of calls may have the capacity to train more broad-skilled agents who can handle any type of call, said Brown, while the bigger ones may dedicate specific employees to taking orders, doing research and handling other tasks.

It would be remiss not to mention the role that automation can play in this process. Brown previously told PYMNTS how machine learning and behavioral analysis can help weed out the “low-hanging fruit” at call centers.

For instance, if a customer calls tech support, Brown said it would not be difficult to create a bot that could walk that customer through a checklist of options: Is the computer plugged in? Is it turned on? Only callers who made it through the checklist and still needed help would be handed off to a live agent.

Similarly, whether holiday shoppers are calling for payments assistance or to check up on an order, there are some rote tasks that could be automated, freeing up live agents to handle more complicated requests.

One big potential use, according to Brown? Catching that one-in-500 fraudster before he strikes. And that, said Brown, goes beyond simply providing tools for agents to identify and flag suspicious activity.

“The preferred tools would ensure that the obvious bad guys never even get to the agent,” he said.

Technology Is Your Friend

Any established business knows what to expect from the holiday season (and even new players have a general inkling, if not the specific knowledge that’s born only of experience). Therefore, many start planning around July to ensure that a timeline is set for seasonal hiring or for making connections with third parties to “borrow” extra help.

Brown said that IntraNext’s clients primarily want to know about efficiencies they can put into play, such as using smarter, better workflows and adding utility to speed customers through the process.

New technology integrations can support speed and security at the same time. The DTMF (dual-tone, multi-frequency) capture component has enabled IntraNext and others to help call centers shave 10 to 15 seconds off each interaction, enabling retailers to serve more customers faster.

DTMF works by translating tones into digits as customers input their sensitive data via phone keypad. The actual digits are masked to the call center agent and are only held in the system long enough to validate access to the payment gateway.

Another beneficial technology has been card-on-file. This innovation can save customers from having to input that data each time. Brown noted it can even help retailers serve customers across channels.

Once a customer has checked out and submitted an online payment, he can choose to keep his card on file so that next time, the site will simply ask if he wishes to use the card ending in XXXX. Then, if that same customer calls in with an issue, the card is linked to his phone number, so the call center can determine right away who is calling without putting the customer through all of the rigmarole of identifying himself.

A Positive Shift

Webster was quick to ask the question on every consumer’s and retailer’s mind: When that call comes in from the associated phone number, how can the call center be certain it’s really the customer and not someone who is using those credentials fraudulently?

Brown said that’s where data forensics come in – and why IntraNext is actively pursuing relationships with organizations specializing in that field. The ideal solution vets inbound callers before being connected to an agent, and efficiency tools are deployed for agents to improve the agent-consumer experience.

Brown said that a growing number of IntraNext’s clients are showing interest in new technology and partnerships that facilitate early event awareness, which is a good sign. However, like the call center fraud that won’t become obvious until January, he believes it’s too soon to say what the outcome will be as more organizations embrace data forensics.

Brown also cited good news from a recently published report from Customer Contact Week showing that “over 62 percent of businesses view live agent telephony as a priority for 2018.” The report also states that most businesses place the customer experience as the top priority. Perpetual evolution is the name of the game: Reduce friction, accelerate problem-solving, repeat.

“It will be interesting at the end of 2018 to see what has transpired,” Brown said.