Love is in the air, but so is fraud. I’ll be honest; I’ve never previously spent much time thinking about Valentine’s Day before, from the fraud perspective. But this year, I did, and I’m grateful because it was fun and gave me some reminders about critical fraud-fighting lessons that are too easy to forget.
Do fraudsters care about Valentine’s Day?
Yes. Typical Valentine’s day products (beauty, jewelry, flowers, chocolates, etc.) are more vulnerable to attacks during the short period before Valentine’s Day. I imagine this is for two reasons:
- Under the radar: Fraudsters know it’s easier to hide in a larger crowd
- Easy to resell: It’s easier for fraudsters to resell the items during this period; lots of lovers are looking to express affection but also looking for deals. Fraudsters can offer great deals on the things they’re reselling because they didn’t pay anything for them in the first place. It’s all profit.
- Chocolate Dipped Strawberries: attacked 3x compared to attack rates the rest of the year. Regular, un-dipped strawberries are also targeted — but only 1.5x more than the rest of the year (evidently, fraudsters think traditional strawberries are less romantic)
- Floral Arrangements: attacked 5x compared to attack rates the rest of the year.
- Jewelry: Specific increases vary according to the brand, type of bracelet, etc., but there’s a notable spike for all kinds of bracelets in the “Love” bracelets category (which have hearts, the word “Love” incorporated, relevant love charms, etc.).
- Impersonation: The fraudsters invest in the impersonation, often creating email addresses that look like a plausible match for the victim and using (or appearing to use) an IP address from within the appropriate city.
- Shipping: They’ll often use the billing address of the victim as the shipping address — and then attempt to reroute the package after the order has already been confirmed.
- If they’re already targeting special food items, fraudsters opportunistically attempt to steal others.
- There’s an assumption that people often eat together, cook together, or both around the holiday, and fraudsters are hoping that will boost them in terms of hiding in the crowd and reselling items.
Forter’s data suggests that even fraudsters who are generally not particularly interested in beauty, jewelry, etc., the rest of the year, will attack relevant items in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. We can all learn something from their willingness to be flexible and opportunistic.
When do the attacks increase?
The timeline here is pretty short, typically only about 10 days (from Feb. 4 to Feb. 14). However, for some merchants, it stretches to closer to 2 weeks. However, the increase in fraud attacks against these items disappears the day after Valentine’s Day.
Favorite fraudster Valentine’s Day items?
It varies, of course, from fraud ring to fraud ring and from year to year, but these items are hot:
Where is fraud seen the most?
Looking at the victims here rather than the fraudsters for Valentine’s Day attacks, fraudsters are particularly likely to use the stolen payment methods or accounts of victims who live in large U.S. cities. (This reflects the fact that Valentine’s Day-related fraud is much more prevalent in the U.S. than in other countries; fraudsters, regardless of where they’re based, seem to have a very strong association between Valentine’s Day and the USA.)
Are other industries seeing a spike in fraud around Valentine’s Day?
Forter’s data shows that attacks against food delivery sites and apps, including groceries, increased during this period. Attacks are 2-3x higher for many merchants in this category. We’re not sure why, but here are two suggestions that seem plausible:
Lessons Worth Learning
None of the data or trends here are shocking to anyone who’s been working in the fraud prevention industry. But I think it highlights some lessons that are easily overlooked and worth remembering.
Lesson 1: Fraudsters are always looking for any opportunity
The Valentine’s Day rush is only 10-14 days long, yet there are fraudsters poised to capitalize on it. Fraud fighters need to be constantly on the alert for the next challenge.
Practical takeaway: I have found regularly scheduled tabletop exercises during the year very helpful. These are sessions when you get creative about what attacks, from the crazy to the all-too-probable, might be in the future and think through what you would do about them. You can create playbooks afterward, documenting the steps you’d take so that if it does happen, you’re already ahead.
Lesson 2: Every industry is different
Valentine’s Day is a non-event for many industries, which was reflected in the data. On the other hand, for some industries, it’s an enormously significant date – as, for a company in beauty or jewelry, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day combined can be as important as the winter holidays.
Practical takeaway: Don’t forget the basics. If you’re moving from one industry to another, or if your company is expanding into a new product line, vertical or geographical market, make sure you re-examine all your assumptions about fraud. Otherwise, your annual planning might be disrupted by something as simple as a holiday you never had to care about before.
Lesson 3: Take opportunities to analyze the data
It can be hard to set time aside to be hands-on and analytical. Whether your work routine is dictated by the pressures of manual review or the high-level demands of management, it doesn’t seem to leave much room for data trend analysis. But it’s at the core of our job and is as vital as any other aspect of understanding fraud.
Practical takeaway: You always continue learning. No matter how experienced you are as a fraud fighter, you need to take time to dive into the data and see what trends you can uncover. You never know what unsuspecting finds you may encounter that change how you approach fraud.
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