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How to Protect Your Business from Fraud

Lily O'Halloran

With identity theft at an all time high, it is crucial for online merchants to protect themselves from fraud. Learn how to detect signs of fraudulent activity and implement fraud prevention strategies to protect yourself from con artists. Early detection of fraudulent activity is crucial to the well-being of your business. Con artists shy away from preying on merchants with proactive fraud prevention tactics in place.

Detect Signs of Fraudulent Activity

Protect your business by watching for signs of fraudulent activity. The most prevalent forms of suspicious activity include: orders for multiple high-end products, bulk orders for products that are rarely bought in large quantities, several orders placed by the same customer in a short period of time, international orders, and a large number of orders placed before you begin advertising.

Con artists try to obtain as much merchandise as possible within a short period of time. A credit card con artist will try to fit in as many orders as they can before the credit card owner notices that their card is missing. Con artists generally follow two strategies when placing fraudulent orders. They either order multiple big-ticket items in one order, or initiate multiple orders each containing one high-end product. Anytime that you run across unusually large orders, or bulk orders that contain a product that is generally not bought in large quantities, it is worth taking time to investigate the order.

Unfortunately, international orders are often a cause for concern. Foreign laws regarding fraud differ from U.S. law, which makes it difficult to recoup your losses. International orders warrant extra scrutiny, especially if an order contains a big-ticket item or multiple products.

A high volume of orders placed soon after opening your business may indicate fraudulent activity. Con artists prey on new online merchants, because they know that new merchants are often inexperienced. Defrauders find new merchants by obtaining lists of domains which were recently purchased. If you start receiving orders before implementing a marketing campaign, investigate the customers and orders placed to look for additional suspicious activity.

Use common sense to decrease the chance of loss through fraud. Any activity that raises a red flag should be investigated before shipping the order. Once an order is shipped, it is very difficult to regain your loss.

Prevent Payment Fraud

Payment fraud prevention should be your first line of defense against defrauders. There are techniques you can implement for each type of payment to avoid getting scammed.

Online merchants commonly accept one or more of the following forms of payment: credit cards, checks, money orders, and PayPal. The ubiquity of credit card fraud is daunting. Unfortunately, completely eliminating credit card fraud is impossible. However, there are strategies you can use to avoid accepting fraudulent credit card orders.

Three simple strategies that you can use to reduce the risk of credit card fraud are:

  1. Require a Card Verification Number (CVN) on all credit card orders.

    Every credit card has a Card Verification Number. The CVN is a three digit number that can be found on the back of the credit card after the printed card number, except on American Express cards – it is a four digit number on the front of the card. The CVN is not embossed on the card, nor is it in the information provided by the magnetic strip. Therefore, the number must be read from the actual card. This provides a small measure of protection against fraud.

  2. Require Address Verification System (AVS) checks by your credit card processor.

    Credit card processors have the ability to confirm that the address provided matches the address of the credit card holder. While this does not guarantee complete fraud prevention, it does guarantee that the customer knows the address on file. Ensure that your credit card processor performs AVS checks on every credit card order. You may need to initiate this service before orders are placed.

  3. Require the shipping address to match the AVS approved billing address.

    Create a standard shipping policy that states orders will only be shipped to Address Verification System approved billing addresses. Billing addresses are generally the card owner’s residence, which is the most requested shipping location.

Verify all checks and money orders before shipping an order. Checks and money orders are both relatively easy to counterfeit or forge, especially when you consider that checks can be ordered through the mail. You can verify either form or payment by contacting the issuing bank on the check or money order. Many business owners choose not to accept checks or money orders, because of the high-rate of fraud on these forms of payment. If you do choose to accept them, always wait for the payment to clear the bank before shipping the customer’s order. That way, the most you will lose is your bank’s fee for non-sufficient funds.

PayPal offers sellers a measure of protection by informing them whether a customer is verified, and whether the customer has a confirmed shipping address. A verified customer has successfully completed PayPal’s identity verification process. The process varies for each country. In the U.S., a customer must link a valid checking account to their PayPal account. An address is confirmed once a customer enters some information in their account that PayPal sends them through the mail. This process establishes that the customer receives mail at the address on their account.

PayPal provides fraud protection to sellers who follow specific criteria. A seller must do three things to be covered by PayPal from fraud:

  • Accept payment from a verified account.
  • Ship to a confirmed address.
  • Use delivery confirmation or a package tracking service.

Under PayPal’s Seller Protection Program, sellers are guaranteed up to $5,000 in reimbursed funds when the above guidelines are met.

Investigate Suspicious Activity

Anytime that suspicious activity surfaces, it is important to investigate the activity before shipping an order. Sometimes the signs will be obvious like the ones mentioned above, but other times you may just get a gut feeling. Follow your instincts and investigate situations that feel off.

Three easy strategies you can use to investigate suspicious orders are:

  1. Verify the customer information.

    A bank cannot give out private information. However, they can confirm information. Contact the issuing bank to confirm the suspicious customer’s name, address, and phone number. The bank may not be able to confirm the phone number, but it is worth a try.

  2. Call customer to verify order.

    One of the easiest ways to determine that an order is legitimate is to confirm the order with the customer by phone. If the customer does not answer the phone, be sure to leave a message. Ask them to call back to confirm the order. You may be dealing with a fraudulent order if the customer does not call back to confirm.

    You know that you are dealing with fraud when the customer denies placing the order, the phone number is disconnected, or the person answering the phone has never heard of the customer’s name. The last situation arises when a random phone number is used for a fraudulent order.

  3. Confirm legitimacy of email address.

    Con artists generally use free email from foreign countries. If you do not recognize the domain, then perform a quick search online. If the page comes up as under construction, a personal page, or something that looks suspicious, then you may be dealing with a fraudulent order. Some con artists by domains, so that they can create as many email addresses as they want. Do not rely on an email address alone to determine the legitimacy of an order. Contact the customer by phone, or verify the customer’s information through the issuing bank of the payment.

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