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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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October 12, 2021

Scams and Student Loan Forbearance

If you are a millennial like me, sitting on a mountain of student loan debt, chances are you've probably received at least one call or letter a month with offers to suspend your student loan payments as part of the administrative forbearance set by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security—or CARES—Act. In fact, I recently received a letter stating that I was "prequalified" to have my federal student loans forgiven in exchange for an upfront fee. Of course, not all of the unsolicited letters and calls are scams, but if you're asked to pay a fee to have your student loans canceled, it's a safe bet that those offers are more than likely scam tactics.

Although student loan forgiveness scams have been around for some time, fraudsters claiming to be affiliated with the Department of Education are exploiting the current economic uncertainty by creating confusion around how borrowers can qualify for the administrative forbearance program. Some fake companies will offer to work with borrowers to negotiate a lower repayment plan for free and then request that they send their payments directly to the company rather than to the lender. Furthermore, scammers may ask for personally identifiable information or the borrower's Federal Student Aid (FSA) login credentials in hopes of stealing the borrower's identity or money. In a time when unemployment is high and many are financially vulnerable, people are likely more willing to take risks if it means obtaining some desperately needed financial relief—and fraudsters are well aware of this.

So what should you do if you are contacted by a company offering student loan debt relief? The FSA recommendsOff-site link you look out for these red flags before you respond:

  • They require you to pay upfront or monthly fees.
  • They promise immediate and total loan forgiveness or cancellation.
  • They ask for your FSA ID username and password.
  • They ask you to sign and submit a third-party authorization form or a power of attorney.
  • They claim that their offer is limited and encourage you to act immediately.
  • Their communications contain spelling and grammatical errors.

The FSA also listsOff-site link some examples of common phrases that scammers use in their communications:

  • "Act immediately to qualify for student loan forgiveness before the program is discontinued."
  • "You are now eligible to receive benefits from a recent law that has passed regarding federal student loans, including total forgiveness in some circumstances. Federal student loan programs may change. Please call within 30 days of receiving this notice."
  • "Your student loans may qualify for complete discharge. Enrollments are first come, first served."
  • "Student alerts: Your student loan is flagged for forgiveness pending verification. Call now!"

Although the latest extension of the administrative forbearance into early next year may be a huge relief for many borrowers, it unfortunately also means that scammers have more time to exploit the situation. I encourage you to read an FSA articleOff-site link that contains other helpful information on how to identify and report a student loan scam.

October 4, 2021

Webinar on Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

Every day, nearly 10,000 adults in the United States turn 65, and every year, elder financial exploitation results in ever greater losses. In 2020, people over the age of 60 sustained more than $1 billion of losses due to fraud, an increase of $300 million over the previous year, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link, known as the IC3. (Some estimatesOff-site link put the losses much higher.)

Payments-related problems are often red flags that alert bankers that fraud could be occurring. Overdraft fees due to bounced checks, unusual ATM withdrawals, utility payments for multiple properties, or payment card transactions that aren't a pattern within the customer's normal payment history are just a few examples that can be explored to protect against elder financial exploitation.

The recent public spotlight on conservatorships—consider Britney Spears, Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Uhura of Star Trek fame, and the 2020 Golden Globe-winning movie I Care A Lot—has identified an until recently little-known form of potential financial exploitation. Approximately 1.3 million adults, representing $50 billion in assets Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link, are in some form of a conservatorship today according to the most recent statistics from 2016. This number includes those who are younger and have disabilities or other issues that may require oversight, but the majority are elders.

As the population continues to age, what risks need to be exposed to protect the elderly from financial exploitation? What are the differences among guardianship, power of attorney, and conservatorship? Are women more at risk for exploitation than men? What can financial institutions do to identify their elderly customers and protect them?

Join us on October 21 for the next session of our Talk About Payments (TAP) webinar series, when two experts in elder financial abuse prevention provide insights into these and other questions. Scarlett Heinbuch, a payments risk expert at the Atlanta Fed, will lead the discussion with Naomi R. Cahn, director of the Family Law Center at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Ronald C. Long, head of aging client services for Wells Fargo.

The webinar takes place on October 21 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. (ET). To participate in the free webinar, you must register in advance. Register on the event pageOff-site link or go to the TAP webinar page, where you can also view previous webinars. Once you have registered, we will send you a confirmation email with login information.

We look forward to a lively discussion on these little-known topics. Bring your questions!

September 27, 2021

Payments Inclusion and Broccoli: Lessons from Parental Incentive

A recent television commercial opens to a scene familiar to most families across America: it's dinner time, broccoli is served, and a child pushes the plate away while an anxious parent coaxes the child to eat it. The child is unhappily resistant for reasons many of us can relate to today, and dinnertime is stressful and frustrating for all.

The ad provides a simple solution: "Potato pay!" exclaims Dad, saying the child will get three potato fries as a reward. The child's face lights up, broccoli is swallowed, chased down by the yummy potatoes, and meal-time tranquility now reigns.

The ad caught my eye as we continue to research payments inclusion efforts for greater financial health. While this simple approach might work on a small scale, such as getting your kids to eat their broccoli, payments choices and behaviors are far more complex.

How do you get people to change their behavior when it comes to trying different or newer payment options? What would help people expand their choices to include these options?

Maybe we need to better identify what the "broccoli” is for those people who could benefit from a well-balanced menu of payment choices. We know that issues such as trust, access, privacy, fees, location, lack of transparency, minimum balance requirements, and other barriers are often cited as reasons why people might stick to cash, a perfectly valid choice. Or they may lead them to use other forms of payments that may be more expensive, such as prepaid cards that come with fees, check cashers, or money transfer facilities.

Rewards, peer and social inclusion, and other positive reinforcements can be useful motivators for behavior change, among other approaches. In general, the reward's promised delight needs to outweigh the refusal to try something, whether it's broccoli to encourage healthy choices, or a payments option that might provide greater financial freedom and health by moving money around more easily and perhaps less expensively.

As we move forward with our payments inclusion research, I will continue to look for incentives that might be helpful for people considering options they might initially not like but could be helpful to their financial health. Meanwhile, I plan to check out the freezer aisle for those magic potatoes.

September 20, 2021

Changing Fraud Strategies: Fraud Fighters

Editor's note: This is the second post in a three-part series.

I recently read about a payment company that responded to emerging fraud schemes by doubling its staff associated with fraud mitigation. The talent the company sought for these roles are in high demand, so I took to the job boards to see what hiring strategies emerged in relation to the trending fraud schemes.

Back in March, I posted the first of a three-part series on changing fraud strategies. That post looked at shifting trends in payments fraud. In this post, I share what I found on the job boards to illustrate how the approach to fighting fraud might be shifting in response to the new types of fraud. (I'll continue that theme in the third post.)

Account takeover fraud
Many of the listings I saw made it clear that organizations want candidates with account takeover expertise. I read statements like "Candidate must be capable and driven to identify, mitigate, and resolve account takeovers" and "Job duties include monitoring accounts, queues, and transactions for possible account takeover and to prevent processing of unauthorized transactions."

Companies are also catching on that account takeover fraud can't be mitigated by a single department of fraud fighters such as information security—it takes collaboration across many lines of defense. In fact, a recent report Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link on account takeover fraud noted the critical need for organizations to ensure that all internal departments understand the organization's liabilities in accessing company networks, databases, employee information, and financial data. Job postings with a focus on account takeover had statements like "will work cross functionally across the enterprise" and "partnering across the enterprise to unify and strengthen strategies to address account takeovers."

New account opening fraud
Sometimes grouped with application fraud, these schemes are hard to detect, leaving many businesses vulnerable. Let's face it, businesses naturally want new accounts. If creating new accounts becomes an area of friction, that can affect a company's bottom line.

That's why mitigating this type of fraud involves balancing the confluence of forces at play, including privacy, customer service, sales, and compliance. Based on some of the job listings I reviewed, organizations are showing signs of adjusting to the rise of risk here. For example, one bank was hiring a salesperson who "must adhere to new account opening procedures to prevent fraud." There were many openings that listed such compliance responsibilities.

One position specifically wanted a subject matter expert in detection, investigation, and prevention of synthetic, identity, and new account application fraud. The job also required extensive collaboration across the enterprise and with law enforcement.

Online fraud
You immediately get a sense of how widespread and varied online fraud is when you look at the listings for companies that are "urgently" hiring fraud analysts or researchers. Some of these companies are in mortgage, health care reporting, home improvement retail, telecommunications, or, of course, e-commerce.

Interestingly, I saw more than just entry-level or intermediate positions for online fraud workers. One e-commerce company was seeking a "head of eCommerce fraud operations." The company said the candidate should "have a passion for managing people" while also wanting to build an organization. A multinational technology company was looking for a "manager of payments trust and safety," who would be tasked with tackling the biggest problems that challenge the safety and integrity of their products.

It takes more than talent
Organizations have a high demand for workers who can help the whole enterprise focus on fighting fraud and who also have analytical and decision-making skills and can make changes to strategies and systems. Of course, talent is only one part of the fraud fight. In the final post in this series, we will explore how technology is being used to tackle the fraud trends.