Combating Call Center Fraud in the Age of COVID

With many agents now working from home, call centers require new technology, new processes, and a new way of thinking about security.

Call centers are a fraudster's dream. Millions of pieces of personally identifiable information (PII) are transmitted from customers to service agents every day. Anyone able to infiltrate these systems — either physically or digitally — can turn around and make a small fortune selling all sorts of valuable information on the Dark Web. In fact, according to Aite Group, 61% of fraud originates in the call center.

During normal operations, security is extremely tight. Agents are authenticated with an ID badge, their arrivals and departures are tracked, and they are not even allowed to have a pen or pencil when taking calls. But these are not normal times. COVID-19 has shifted more than 1 million agents from locked-down call centers to work-from-home systems — weakening physical security strategies meant to prevent rogue actors from exfiltrating information for personal or financial gain.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that organizations with large call center operations take advantage of new, innovative technology to secure the conversation

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Preventing Work-From-Home Security Risks
Agents working from home can't be monitored and tracked while on the job to the extent they are in the call center. For example, they can't they be prevented from recording calls or writing down credit card numbers and other financial information. Organizations can't even authenticate users who log in to their call center platforms with photo IDs — meaning that a family member, a roommate, or even a stranger could impersonate the agent and harvest valuable PII.

Here are three tips that organizations can use to secure the conversation:

1. Prove Agents Are Who They Say They Are
Speech recognition and voice biometric technology in the call center are nothing new. Organizations often use these technologies to authenticate customers that call in and to evaluate intent. But speech recognition and voice biometrics can be used on the agent side as well. Agents can be verified when they first log in and then periodically throughout the entire shift. This prevents an unauthorized person from using stolen credentials or sneaking into the system when the agent is on a break. If there is an inconsistent or false match, a supervisor is notified immediately and can address the situation.

2. Automate and Encrypt PII Collection
Rogue agents and unauthorized users can't steal information they don't know. Instead of relaying PII verbally over the phone, customers can submit information digitally without any agent exposure. This can be done over text or encrypted SMS that pings a server on the back end and sends the agent a confirmation to continue the engagement once the data is accepted. An added benefit is the ability to automatically populate redundant fields across applications. Previously, an agent might have had to manually enter information multiple times across screens. Automating data collection can reduce call times by half and eliminate human error.

3. Detect Anomalies With AI
All call center calls are recorded for quality of service and security but, with thousands of calls conducted every day, not all can be monitored. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can close that gap by parsing through conversations to identify abnormal behavior at scale. These solutions can search for changes in tone, long pauses, and other indications that something unexpected has occurred. It can even learn to remove bias from fraud detection — such as forgiving specific speech patterns from agents that have a speech impediment or accent. By leveraging AI, systems are able to constantly learn and adapt models to improve accuracy.

We expect to see millions of agents handling customer service calls from the comfort of home rather than a highly secure, highly controlled call center. Securing the conversation will require organizations to investigate new technologies that can identify and prevent fraud in these situations — from speech biometrics to audio encryption to AI. Fraudsters are now on notice.

Editors' Choice
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
Kelly Jackson Higgins 2, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading