Fraud requires a global solution

23 October 2018 | Natalie Bannerman

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Katia González, head of fraud prevention operations and services at BICS, talks to Natalie Bannerman about the increasing impact of telecoms fraud, her experiences as a woman in telecoms and her work with the i3Forum and the GLF’s code of conduct

Have you ever received a call from a number you don’t know? In general, those are missed calls that you never have time to answer, so you usually call it back to know what it was about. That call is typically fraudulent and going to be charged at a very high rate. “That’s telecoms fraud and that’s what I do,” said Katia González, head of fraud prevention operations and services at BICS.

Having been with the company more than 10 years González is considered an expert in her field – and, as such, she also serves as the chair of i3Forum’s fraud workstream.

What is BICS’s strategy to combat the growing threat of fraud? Its approach is global, she says, as all plans should be.

“BICS is a global company, so when it comes to preventing telecoms fraud we have a global strategy; both because of the nature of our business, and also because we believe that fraud is a global problem that requires a global solution. It doesn’t make sense to have different operators fight fraud and try to come up with solutions here and there, unless there is a global González says the industry as a whole is moving in this direction “both in terms of the services we offer, and also via promotion through the i3forum and the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum’s code of conduct.” There are a number of initiatives where the industry is trying to gather different members of the business to help try to find this widespread global approach.

“So, even if each region has some specificities, with certain types of fraud being more prevalent in specific regions, overall there’s no major difference – just the way fraud attacks take place. The results are all the same.”

Because of González’s position with the i3Forum, she knows first-hand that work that has gone on between the organisation and ITW’s Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF), which recently partnered to publish a code of conduct to combat fraud in the industry.

The document has been supported by 18 carriers. A1 Telekom Austria, BICS, BT, Colt, Deutsche Telekom ICSS, Etisalat, Orange, PCCW Global, Telefónica and Türk Telekom International signed the code, and they were later joined by BTS, Interoute [now GTT], Sprint, Tele2, Telia Carrier, Telstra, MNF Group including TNZI, and Vodafone.

What’s the significance of the document? González says that it means a drastic change is happening. “A few years back you had mobile or fixed line operators running their fight against fraud independently. But when we are a group of relevant industry players that have a similar industry approach then we create a real impact in the fight against fraud,” she explains.

“With the code of conduct we have been able to reach a little bit further. Previously this kind of knowledge was only shared internally in the wholesale community, but thanks to the reach of ITW and Capacity [which runs International Telecoms Week], we’ve been able to make a lot of noise. It means that there is an international consciousness around the problem of fraud and that wholesale carriers can be part of this initiative to fight fraud.”

Collaboration is key

This message of collaboration is a sentiment that González truly champions. She has written blogs on the subject, with titles like ‘No mobile operator is an island in the threat of telecoms fraud’. Though she says that collaboration in this area is changing and getting better, there is still a lot of work still to be done.

“From time to time I get messages from people from other companies asking ‘how can we sign’ the code of conduct. Now let’s be honest: for some it may be just a marketing exercise to show that they want to do something, but for many I think there’s this consciousness that is rising up.”

Unsurprisingly, educating the industry about the need for collaboration is also González’s biggest challenge in her role. “We are moving from a pure regulated industry. We need to move to a way of doing business that’s the right way and putting in the effort that is needed.” But this needs investment, she warns: “That’s the issue with all of this. We require investment, the kind that doesn’t make money. That’s kind of a challenge. This is why we need at least the big players to start contributing more.”

Emerging technologies have the ability to improve the lives of consumers but those same innovations can embolden criminals. What will be the impact of 5G and the internet of things (IoT) on fraud? González predicts that because IoT will generate a lot more connected devices it will also create more entry points for any kind of attack.

“5G will speed things up, meaning it will become crucial to be faster in the detection and prevention of fraud,” she says. “Because, once it’s there, it spreads very quickly. I think these technologies will be an enabler of business opportunities but, unfortunately, they will also enable fraud attacks to cause even more damage in a shorter period of time.”

As for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-to-machine (M2M) systems, González sees them as both a potential accelerator of fraud and a potential tool for fraud prevention. “With so many devices and so many transactions going over the networks, it’s going to be very difficult to keep people working in a traditional way without machine learning and automation. There’s going to be too much data out there,” she says.

But where there are benefits for one, there are benefits for all. “As automation speeds things up and makes things faster and smarter, I’m afraid criminals will also use this. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t. Unfortunately, technology is there for anybody – the potential there is huge.”

Despite the progressive nature of technology and criminal activity as a whole, González says that the biggest enablers of fraud are the same as they were years ago: roaming, spam texts and missed – or “Wangiri” – phone calls.

Why? She credits this to the ease of committing these types of crimes in order to get a lot of money very quickly.

From a general perspective it’s personal data and international transactions that González sees as a widespread problem – because of the sensitivity of that data and its ties to international activity. “Personal data because it’s very sensitive for end users and there’s a lot of consciousness about ways of using it,” she says. “International transactions because money flows faster when you have international data movements going on. Of course I mean telecoms, not banks or financial markets.”

Passive resistance

Women in telecoms is a subject close to González’s heart and it’s a conversation she is keen to have with me. She describes what she calls passive resistance to increasing female inclusion in very male-dominated industry.

“To be honest I still feel the sexism,” she says. “You learn to deal with it, but its there. I think there is some kind of passive resistance that is cultural because unfortunately on this issue it tends to be cultural.” What’s the answer? “For me it needs to be addressed from two different angles: one is the personal angle and over time you need to learn how to deal with it. Then there also needs to be a more structural change, things like public policy changes, the changing of people’s mindsets, cultural changes and educational changes.”

But regardless of the noise, the biggest assets any woman has in trying to navigate this industry, according to González, is resilience – something she says she is learning to do every day.

“Always talk in a professional way of course, but in the right way. Talk to stand up for yourself. Talk to other women. Don’t just get upset. This is why I’m glad this conversation is happening – you feel stronger when you know you are not alone. When we stand up for one’s position, we stand up for the others’ positions too. That’s why it is so important.” González champions the notion that “diversity brings value” and says: “Having different views and different perspectives always enriches a discussion” One way to combat sexism, she says, is to generate statistics about it. “Things like that will show that there is a difference.”

Meanwhile, the battle against fraud continues. González remains hopeful for the future as knowledge and awareness of the problem continues to grow. It is the wholesale community that, in her opinion, is leading that charge. “I think with respect to collaboration, wholesale carriers are one step ahead compared to operators.” With any luck, one day soon that missed call on your mobile will be just that.