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Pints, Penalties and Payment Fraud: Welcome to the World Cup

You’d think that England already had the World Cup in the bag, based on the nationwide scenes of jubilation after the Three Lions’ penalty-takers had gone against the (painful) grain of football history, and emerged victorious at the end of a scrappy match against Colombia. However, those cries of “It’s Coming Home” from English football fans may just be a little premature, given that there are still three matches to play (and win) before the English can lay claim to being world champions for the first time in half a century.

But it’s precisely this sort of unbridled optimism (quite out of character for us English) that makes the Football World Cup a boon for businesses – both in the host country, and around the world.

According to a new BBC report, the Greene King pub chain sold an extra half a million pints during England’s group stage win over Panama. And as the knockout stage of the competition progresses, the stakes only get higher – for footballers and retailers alike. The feel-good factor drives sales of big screen TVs, replica kit and souvenir tat, to the tune of millions – not to mention the frantic search for last minute flights, hotels, visas and local currency.

However, sporting optimism and the resulting uptick in consumer spending also has a dark side, creating a perfect opportunity for fraudsters to strike (and the offside rule doesn’t exist in the world of cybercrime). It was this topic that generated a lot of lively discussion at our recent Partner Day in Munich, and not only because we were hosting customers and partners at the impressive Allianz Arena football stadium.


Unholy union between football and fraud

Any major sporting event, though perhaps the Football World Cup more than any other, presents opportunities for fraudsters to harvest card details using a range of scams and technology – and then take advantage of ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ purchasing behaviour of genuine eCommerce consumers to successfully defraud merchants. Phishing scams and fake URLs can be used to lure fans into parting with credit card details in return for a replica kit that never arrives, while open Wi-Fi hotspots in public viewing areas can be easily set up by fraudsters who can intercept data.

There are an even greater range of fraud scams within the host country, with visitors converging from around the world, often unaware of the sophistication of fraudsters. Traveling fans are also prone to letting their guard down, especially when their team has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, as has happened so often already in this tournament. Below are just some of the common scams and tactics that are used to defraud consumers by obtaining payment or card details for fraudulent purposes. And most of these are by no means specific to 2018 host nation Russia;

  • ATM skimmers in host cities
  • Compromised credit card payments in stores
  • Bogus travel agencies
  • Unsecured Wi-Fi networks
  • Russian visa application form scams
  • Fraudulent ticketing (including phony ‘official partner’ contents)


What’s a merchant to do?

The message to consumers is clear enough – it starts with educating yourself regarding potential scams and exercising additional caution, especially when traveling.

But what about merchants? Thinking about fraud strategy at the business end of the tournament is the proverbial ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but bear in mind that once Russia 2018 concludes, the next major global sporting event will be just around the corner.

As fraudsters make a concerted effort to harvest card details (often then sold on the dark web), merchants need to get better at identifying when stolen card details are being used in their stores – they need to focus on identifying the shopper rather than the transaction. Stream analytics is one approach that can help, with improved accuracy of rules leading to more accurate outcomes. This is particularly important when there’s a fine line between identifying fraud and blocking genuine shoppers. Within the context of global sporting events, it’s also a benefit to utilize global consortium data for positive profiling. This can not only increase conversions and reduce fraud and chargebacks, but also help to reduce payments friction – ultimately benefiting customer experience.

The phishing can start many months before the first match, so merchants should plan early, ideally with the support of expert risk analysts who are able to optimize and fine-tune a fraud strategy, and also have some understanding of the types of fraud that are happening.

Remember, fraud trends evolve quickly, and defending against fraud requires constant attention. What worked 4 years ago may no longer be effective. Just ask our friends from Germany, Argentina, Portugal, et al. I’m sure that many of them would agree too.