Understanding and managing first party fraud
Wherever merchants, lenders, service providers, government agencies or other organizations offer goods, services or anything of value to the public, they incur risk. These risks include:
- Credit risk — Loosely defined, credit risk arises when an individual receives goods/services in exchange for a promise of future repayment. If the individual’s circumstances change in a way that prevents him or her from paying as agreed, the provider may not receive full payment and will incur a loss.
- Fraud risk — Fraud risk arises when the recipient uses deception to obtain goods/services. The type of deception can involve a wide range of tactics. Many involve receiving the goods/services while attributing the responsibility for repayment to someone else.
The biggest difference between credit risk and fraud risk is intent. Credit risk usually involves customers who received the goods/services with intent to repay but simply lack the resources to meet their obligation. Fraud risk starts with the intent to receive the goods/services without the intent to repay.
Between credit risk and fraud risk lies a hybrid type of risk we refer to as first-party fraud risk. We call this a hybrid form of risk because it includes elements of both credit and fraud risk. Specifically, first party fraud involves an individual who makes a promise of future repayment in exchange for goods/services without the intent to repay.
Challenges of first party fraud
First party fraud is particularly troublesome for both administrative and operational reasons. It is important for organizations to separate these two sets of challenges and address them independently.
The most common administrative challenge is to align first-party fraud within the organization. This can be harder than it sounds. Depending on the type of organization, fraud and credit risk may be subject to different accounting rules, limitations that govern the data used to address risk, different rules for rejecting a customer or a transaction, and a host of other differences.
A critical first step for any organization confronting first-party fraud is to understand the options that govern fraud management versus credit risk management within the business. Once the administrative options are understood, an organization can turn its attention to the operational challenges of first-party fraud. There are two common choices for the operational handling of first-party fraud, and both can be problematic.
- First party fraud is included with credit risk. Credit risk management tends to emphasize a binary decision where a recipient is either qualified or not qualified to receive the goods/services. This type of decision overlooks the recipient’s intent. Some recipients of goods/services will be qualified with the intent to pay. Qualified individuals with bad intentions will be attracted to the offers extended by these providers. Losses will accelerate, and to make matters worse it will be difficult to later isolate, analyze and manage the first party fraud cases if the only decision criteria captured pertained to credit risk decisions. The end result is high credit losses compounded by the additional first party fraud that is indistinguishable from credit risk.
- First party fraud is included with other fraud types. Just as it’s not advisable to include first party fraud with credit risk, it’s also not a good idea to include it with other types of fraud. Other types of fraud typically are analyzed, detected and investigated based on the identification of a fraud victim. Finding a person whose identity or credentials were misused is central to managing these other types of fraud. The types of investigation used to detect other fraud types simply don’t work for first-party fraud. First party fraudsters always will provide complete and accurate information, and, upon contact, they’ll confirm that the transaction/purchase is legitimate. The result for the organization will be a distorted view of their fraud losses and misconceptions about the effectiveness of their investigative process.
Evaluating the operational challenges within the context of the administrative challenges will help organizations better plan to handle first party fraud.
Best practices for data and analytics suggest that more granular data and details are better. The same holds true with respect to managing first party fraud. First party fraud is best handled (operationally) by a dedicated team that can be laser-focused on this particular issue and the development of best practices to address it. This approach allows organizations to develop their own (administrative) framework with clear rules to govern the management of the risk and its prevention. This approach also brings more transparency to reporting and management functions. Most important, it helps insulate good customers from the impact of the fraud review process.
First-party fraudsters are most successful when they are able to blend in with good customers and perpetrate long-running scams undetected. Separating this risk from existing credit risk and fraud processes is critical. Organizations have to understand that even when credit risk is low, there’s an element of intent that can mean the difference between good customers and severe losses.