Staying Ahead in Asia Pacific’s Fraud Prevention Gameby Rebecca Oi September 21, 2023
In the midst of a digital revolution sweeping through Asia Pacific, the region finds itself on the cusp of profound change. While this technological wave has brought unprecedented convenience and connectivity, it has also unfurled a shadowy side – a growing and increasingly sophisticated wave of fraud that threatens our digital society’s foundations.
Recent reports have sounded the alarm, revealing that one in four consumers in Asia Pacific has fallen victim to online fraud. To address this pressing issue, a panel of experts has assembled to illuminate the evolving landscape of fraud.
Drawing from industry insights, they explored emerging trends, the latest strategies and technologies for fraud prevention, and the intricate balance between upholding security and ensuring a seamless user experience.
Leading this discussion are notable figures in the field, including Beaver Chua, Head of Group Financial Crime Compliance Anti-Fraud at OCBC; Yeoh Chen Chow, Co-founder of Fave; Gabby Tomas, Chief Risk Officer and Risk Management Group Head at RCBC, and Nicholas Stipp, Vice President and General Manager Asia Pacific at Ekata, a Mastercard company. Vincent Fong, Chief Editor at Fintech News Malaysia, moderated the conversation.
Alarming trends in fraud
Nicholas Stipp, General Manager for Ekata, highlighted a disturbing trend in fraud—the industrialisation of fraudulent activities. Fraudsters are no longer lone actors operating in isolation. Instead, they have harnessed the power of technology to create vast networks of fraudulent operations.
One of the most alarming developments is the use of generative AI by these criminals, enabling them to automate and scale their attacks. This means they can quickly and efficiently piece together synthetic identities that closely resemble real profiles, often purchased from the dark web.
According to Nicholas, the real cause for concern is the human element of these operations. Countries in Southeast Asia, such as Myanmar and Cambodia, have become hotbeds for fraudulent activities, where large groups of people are forced to collaborate in orchestrating scams.
These operations are technologically advanced and exploit individuals against their will, intensifying the pace of fraudulent attacks.
Business perspectives on fraud
Shifting the focus to the business lens, Yeoh Chen Chow, Co-founder of Fave, offered insights from a different vantage point.
He emphasised the importance of maintaining business continuity while safeguarding against fraud. He pointed out that the rise of automation and AI has enabled fraudsters to conduct attacks at scale.
Synthetic identity fraud, where criminals create entirely fictitious identities, poses a significant threat. Social engineering fraud has also evolved, with attackers employing more sophisticated tactics to manipulate unsuspecting victims.
To address these challenges, businesses must remain vigilant and stay ahead of fraudsters. Collaboration with industry peers and authorities is crucial, as fraudsters often target multiple platforms.
Chen Chow highlighted the importance of the establishment of the National Fraud Portal in Malaysia to centralise fraud-related information and enhance stakeholder collaboration. Such initiatives can streamline the reporting and investigation process, making it more challenging for fraudsters to operate with impunity.
A banking perspective
Beaver Chua, Head of Group Financial Crime Compliance Anti-Fraud at OCBC, provided insights from the banking sector. He highlighted the increasing prevalence of online scams, including job, e-commerce, love, and government impersonation.
The pandemic accelerated the shift of fraudulent activities online, making it easier for scammers to reach a broader audience.
He identified a concerning trend related to Android malware, emphasising that traditional controls are less effective in combating this emerging threat.
These malware attacks can result in complete account takeovers, posing a significant challenge for banks and their customers. The banking industry is implementing new controls to address this evolving menace.
The two distinct dimensions of evolving fraud
Gabby Tomas, Chief Risk Officer at RCBC, emphasised two dimensions of the evolving fraud landscape. The first dimension involves increased sophistication in attacks, such as targeted phishing and social engineering.
The second dimension is the broadening surface area of risk due to the digital transformation, adoption of cloud technology, and the use of artificial intelligence by businesses and malicious actors.
He stressed that while beneficial for legitimate companies, AI empowers fraudsters to enhance their attacks’ quality and success rate. Fraudsters are not only targeting individuals but also corporations and supply chains.
The first dimension involves the increasing sophistication of attacks, driven by advances in AI and deepfake technology. Fraudsters are now deploying more targeted and convincing methods, making it even more challenging to detect scams.
In essence, the democratisation of fraud tools and an expanding attack surface have created an environment where criminals are more potent than ever.
The role of artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence, often seen as a double-edged sword, holds immense potential in aiding fraud prevention and enabling fraudsters.
Organisations can harness AI-driven analytics to detect anomalies and patterns indicative of fraudulent activities. These systems can learn from historical data and adapt to evolving fraud tactics, providing real-time protection.
However, as Nicholas cautioned, fraudsters can leverage AI to fine-tune their attacks. AI-generated content, deepfake videos, and chatbots that mimic human interactions are becoming more sophisticated.
This underscores the need for a proactive and dynamic approach to fraud prevention that stays ahead of emerging threats.
Mitigating fraud in a digital world
As the digital landscape continues to evolve, so do the methods employed by fraudsters. Organisations and individuals must adapt and implement innovative strategies to mitigate fraud.
One critical aspect of fraud prevention is the use of advanced technology. Nicholas noted that fraudsters leverage generative AI to create synthetic identities that resemble real profiles.
To counter this, organisations must harness the power of AI and machine learning for fraud detection. These technologies can analyse vast datasets in real-time to identify anomalies and flag potential fraudulent activities.
Furthermore, the rise of social engineering attacks necessitates focusing on user education and awareness. Chen Chow highlighted the prevalence of scams that exploit human psychology.
Users must be educated about the risks and tactics employed by fraudsters. Regular training and awareness campaigns can empower individuals to recognise and report suspicious activities.
Beaver emphasised the importance of collaboration with industry peers and organisations specialising in fraud prevention. Sharing threat intelligence and best practices can significantly enhance an organisation’s ability to combat fraud effectively.
Additionally, adopting multi-factor authentication and biometric security measures can add robust layers of protection against account takeovers.
Gabby stressed the need for continuous monitoring and adaptation to stay ahead of fraudsters. Organisations should invest in proactive threat hunting, actively searching for signs of malicious activity within their networks. This approach can identify threats before they escalate and cause significant damage.
Government and regulatory role
Gabby highlighted the democratisation of fraud in the deep web, where fraud solutions are readily available off the shelf. This accessibility enables a broader range of bad actors to conduct attacks with greater ease and sophistication.
Fraudsters can quickly learn from previous attacks and improve their tactics over time, posing a significant challenge to cybersecurity efforts.
While businesses and individuals have a crucial role in fraud prevention, government and regulatory bodies also play a pivotal role in creating a secure digital environment.
Governments must enact stringent cybersecurity regulations and promote information sharing among financial institutions, law enforcement agencies, and technology providers.
The panellists unanimously stressed the importance of collaboration in combating fraud. They highlighted the need for governments, industries, and organisations to work together in sharing information, implementing robust cybersecurity measures, and creating public-private partnerships.
By presenting a united front against fraud, it becomes possible to discourage weaker actors and increase the chances of catching and prosecuting those involved in malicious activities.
The human element
Despite the advancement of technology in fraud detection, the human element remains a critical factor. Social engineering attacks exploit human psychology and emotions to manipulate victims into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that benefit fraudsters.
Chen Chow shared anecdotes of individuals attempting to scam back against fraudsters, illustrating the psychological complexity of these interactions.
Educating individuals about the tactics used by fraudsters and fostering a sense of vigilance is essential to reducing the success rate of social engineering attacks.
Navigating the complex landscape of fraud
As the panel of experts have illuminated, the world of fraud is evolving at an alarming pace. Fraudsters are harnessing the power of technology and exploiting the vulnerabilities created by rapid digital transformation.
The threats are multifaceted and ever-evolving, from synthetic identity fraud to malware attacks and social engineering scams.
Businesses, financial institutions, and governments must adopt a collaborative approach to counteract these challenges. Sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices is essential to staying ahead of fraudsters.
As AI plays a pivotal role in prevention and perpetration, investing in cutting-edge technology and continuously adapting to emerging threats is crucial.
Ultimately, the battle against fraud is ongoing, like the fight against a mutating virus. However, with vigilance, cooperation, and innovative solutions, we can strive to create a safer digital landscape for businesses and consumers alike.