Big Interview

Katia Gonzalez, BICS and i3forum: Spreading the word

Katia Gonzalez has been working tirelessly to raise awareness of fraud in the wholesale sector, both in her role as head of i3forum’s Fraud Workstream and as head of fraud operations at BICS.

An avid sports fan and self-proclaimed yoga enthusiast, Katia Gonzalez – head of fraud operations at BICS – is used to jumping from one extreme to the next. But nothing could prepare her for the task of taking on global wholesale fraud in her role as head of the i3forum’s Fraud Workstream.

Gonzalez has an open approach to tackling fraud and believes that in order to fight the growing problem of fraud within wholesale, operators must use each other and their ideas.

“Sharing information is key,” Gonzalez says. “And little by little, [operators] are starting to understand this.”

Forum for thought

The i3forum initially began as a support group for the migration of bilateral international voice to IP and has now taken the carrier world by storm. Likewise, the FraudStream Workshop is gathering momentum as the industry recognises the importance of sharing information and expertise in this area.

“In the beginning, there were just a few of us trying to push forward the idea that we had a role to play in the industry,” says Gonzalez.

Although companies were initially wary of discussing fraud, it soon became evident it was an issue that needed resolving and the Fraud Workstream now boasts approximately 18 regular attendees at the i3forum conferences.

“And I know there are others that follow up via conference calls and emails because they are unable to attend the discussions,” Gonzalez adds.

Gonzalez says that not only is the growing support encouraging, but so are the types of discussions members are having between themselves – something she describes as the chicken-and-egg effect. Carriers that come to the Fraud Workstream meetings are starting to go back and promote the fight against fraud, using some of the methods discussed to prevent fraudulent activity on their networks.

“Their customers get used to it and like this way of working, where the wholesaler is helping them to identify and stop fraud,” Gonzalez says. “[Their customers] are then requesting this type of service from other carriers, who start to realise that they need to offer a similar solution.”

Given that there are many different entry points for fraud from mobile and fixed-line operators, MVNOS and OTTs, Gonzalez says that the i3forum has spent a long time defining what fraud means for wholesale.

Many in the wholesale industry agree that operators need to take more responsibility for fraudulent activity, but Gonzalez says that there are some fraud schemes that are simply not relevant to wholesalers.

“Sometimes there is nothing operators can reasonably do to avoid [fraud] or recover the financial loss,” she says. “There are many doors for fraud but it doesn’t mean that every single door is used to convey international traffic.”

The majority of scams tend to originate on retail operators’ networks, with the wholesale carrier having limited control over how or where traffic is generated. Retail operators, meanwhile, have been calling upon carriers to conduct more analysis and provide more understanding and visibility on this traffic.

Gonzalez agrees that there is a lot more work for the industry to do in order to better combat fraud, but believes that carriers should identify and focus on the areas of the network where they can control fraudulent activity.

“We spent a lot of time agreeing on the possible actions, what to do and how to do it,” she says. The i3forum has since filed a document detailing their findings. “We are also spending a lot of time in fraud schemes beyond traditional voice, including SMS, roaming and signalling,” she adds.

The crowdsourcing era

BICS has also been working on its latest fraud-busting solution, FraudGuard. FraudGuard is an open platform, which works in real time and is designed to allow users to access and share information easily.

“In terms of building a system, it was challenging as it had so many features,” Gonzalez says. “We needed something highly advanced so it took time, but the results have been fantastic.”

She says that BICS wanted to develop a service that would allow proactive information sharing in a completely automated environment.

“Now is the crowdsourcing era,” she says. “So we thought of a solution where crowdsourcing was one of the inputs in the system. Anybody that is willing to share anything about fraud can do it via this system.”

And as with the i3forum’s early beginnings, Gonzalez says that there is a growing understanding in the industry that sharing information is critical.

Gonzalez is also enthusiastic about the positive role conferences can play in raising fraud awareness. Last January, Gonzalez hosted panel sessions on both days of Capacity’s first ever Wholesale Fraud Forum in London. Attended by nearly 100 members of the wholesale industry, the forum addressed a number of issues, with two key themes prevailing. Fraud is a growing problem in the wholesale space, and it will take industry-wide collaboration to stop it.

“It was great to see that there was a real interaction,” she says of the event. “The goal is not to have everyone agree, it is to have people realise that it is a challenge and that it is complicated to find a right way to approach it.”

Gonzalez has spoken at a number of conferences worldwide, and notes that fraud awareness varies by region.

Having spoken at many European conferences, Gonzalez says that in recent months, there has been more attendance and involvement from Middle Eastern and US companies. Gonzalez is tactful about identifying which regions are ahead or behind with fraud awareness, but says that with more and more regions taking fraud precautions on board, the industry as a whole is making strides towards solving the issue.

“Following successful conferences in Europe, my hope is that we can have more traction in the Americas,” she adds.

BICS behaviour

Gonzalez notes that the retail operator is well-established in identifying fraud and putting a stop to it as soon as possible, whereas fraud prevention in the wholesale market is designed to attack it from one step further back.

“What we are proposing now [with FraudGuard] is to stop any fraud before it happens,” says Gonzalez. “It is proactivity we are proposing, which is far more effective.”

Gonzalez is proud of what BICS has already achieved in its fight against fraud. “We are exploring all possible directions to combat fraud,” she says.

Gonzalez also believes BICS’ close relationship with the i3forum provides the company with the right support for dealing with fraud. She describes the i3forum as an open discussion with no commercial agenda, which has allowed for a very innovative approach.

“We are spending a lot of time and energy on the i3forum; following the guidelines as well as attending and promoting conferences,” Gonzalez says.

BICS is also involved with a number of other industry bodies focussed on fraud, such as FIINA – an organisation created in 1987 which represents international telecommunications carriers in their right to protect themselves – and the GSMA.

“We are also proposing specific services tailor-made for our customers,” Gonzalez adds. She says that BICS monitors 100% of its traffic to make sure it is fully aware of what is happening on its network.

“We take a wide view of fraud, rather than just focussing on one type of service,” she says. And although a relatively small company in comparison to other multinational wholesale carriers, Gonzalez says that BICS’ size often works to its advantage.

“We are very dynamic and we are empowered to have ideas and develop them, as was the case with FraudGuard,” she explains.

Balancing act

Working in the fraud arena can often be tough, and Gonzalez says that the role lends itself to some hard talking at times.

“Sometimes when you are talking about fraud – say, for example, we’re talking about withholding payment to prove fraud – the discussions get a little tougher,” she says.

So when she’s not fighting fraud, Gonzalez likes to take things considerably slower with Ashtanga yoga – a specific type of the exercise focussed on synchronising the breath with a progressive series of postures.

As well as managing her role at BICS with her position at the i3forum, Gonzalez says it is important for her to find the right balance between work and her personal life. “It’s important to find the right balance but it’s not always easy,” she says.

Despite the attractive international lifestyle that accompanies a career in wholesale telecoms, Gonzalez says that her travel schedule is often difficult to manage, especially given that she has young children and a family. “When I have free time I also love reading and all sport in general,” she adds.

But her love for sport was put to the test this summer as the Spaniard – born in France and living in Belgium – saw her national team disappear in the first round of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil, having won in the 2010 event.

“I had a lot of hope for the Spanish team, but… next time!” she jokes.

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