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Phone Security Issues


By: Vijay Balasubramaniyan, CEO, CTO & Co-Founder

Pindrop is in a period of hyper-growth. In 2016, Pindrop doubled its customer base and saw revenues increase more than 100% year-over-year. For years, enterprise companies have been investing heavily in both physical and cyber security, leaving one place where customer information is not as protected – call centers. With call center fraud up 100% in the last year alone, major banks and enterprises have turned to Pindrop. Currently, our Phoneprinting™ technology is monitoring hundreds-of-millions of calls and is proven to catch 80% of fraudulent calls.

Pindrop’s growth, among enterprise call centers, is driven by its success in mitigating its customers’ exposure to rapidly-expanding fraud, totaling $10 billion in fraud losses in the US alone last year. The old methods of keeping phone lines safe no longer works. For example, when you call a bank they will most likely ask you basic question to authenticate you like your first pet’s name, mother’s maiden name and your social security number. Fraud rings have all this information due to ongoing identity hacks and even low level criminals can easily find that information on Facebook or through a simple Google search.

Every month, 100 billion phone calls are made and now voice is becoming the dominant platform to control our devices, TVs, car dashboards and more. To help scale Pindrop’s mission, to provide security and authentication on every voice communication and every voice device, we have added three incredible entrepreneurs to our board that have created billions of dollars in value, creating and defining new technology markets: Martin Casado and John Chambers as board members and Marc Andreessen as a board observer. While growth in the enterprise is a major focus for Pindrop and our board, there is a large and unique opportunity to apply Pindrop’s technology to another sector as well – the Internet of Things. With deep experience in both back-end and consumer-facing platforms, Marc, Martin, and John will be critical advisors to Pindrop’s utilization and growth in IoT.

Nearly every major technology company is investing heavily in natural language processing and the development of voice services to power Smart Home environments, to give consumers a mobile personal assistant, and enable voice experiences in cars, on TVs, and other devices. But a major missing piece in voice services today is identity, the ability for voice services to not just understand you, but know who you are. This enables a world of new and streamlined personal services – unlock a rental car or hotel door with your voice as the key, launch your music or video streaming subscriptions to any device with the unique biometrics of your voice. The possibilities are endless, and it’s a very exciting time.

For IoT, Pindrop technology doesn’t see identity verification as the end point, there are also opportunities with context. In order for AI/voice services to be truly helpful, they will need to understand the context in which requests are made. A request of “call the police” to a voice service is an example. This could be a non-urgent call about a minor car accident outside, an urgent call about someone breaking into a car across the street, or an extreme emergency like an intruder in the house. Voice services today do not measure stress, inflection and other biometrics that provide real context to requests. Once identity and context are baked into voice services at the security layer, a new wave of IoT services will follow.

History has shown that security lags every time a new platform shift occurs – the shift to the Internet, the shift of IT to the cloud, the shift to mobile. Two-factor authentication was a great step forward for security on the Internet, but with voice there can be 100+ factor authentication in just seconds. With IoT, we have an opportunity to do it right, at a very early phase.

Learn more.

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As the implementation of voice biometrics has become increasingly popular as a form of identification and authentication, researchers are challenged with determining how users’ voices change over time. New research shows that voices age significantly, even in the short term, making positive authentication more difficult with just voice biometrics alone.

One obstacle making the measurement of voice aging difficult is that every speaker’s voice ages uniquely and at a different rate. There is no universally accepted factor that can be applied to a known authentic recording to compensate for aging.

“Voice biometrics aren’t accurate enough on their own. You have to add other factors like spoofing detection and phoneprinting,” said Dr. Elie Khoury, a principal research scientist at Pindrop, who has conducted a long-term study on voice aging. Khoury delivered an eye-opening presentation on his results at the RSA Conference on February 17.

Biometrics have gained popularity in both consumer and enterprise applications for a number of reasons, specifically their trusted persistence. Most fingerprints and irises don’t change much over time, so these traits can serve as accurate long-term identifiers. But voice is different. Small changes in a user’s voice can have a direct impact on scoring models and result in false acceptances or rejections.

In a two-year study of 122 people — native speakers of English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, and Italian — Khoury found that the expected error rate (EER) of positively identifying a given speaker increased significantly over time. In fact, the EER nearly doubled over the two-year the study. And it’s not just one trait that changes in a speaker’s voice, either.

“There’s a change in the pitch and the speed of the speech. When you compute the score, it will decrease slowly over time,” Khoury said. “That’s what’s risky for voice biometrics. The score should remain as high as possible for a match. Aging can make false detection or rejection go up over time. And the pitch will change multiple times during a lifetime.”

There also a number of additional factors, besides age, that can contribute to variances over time, including the emotional state, stress levels, health, and vocal effort of the speaker, all of which can have an effect on accurate identification, Khoury said. Compensating for these factors is the challenge for researchers looking to improve the accuracy of voice models.

One way to do improve accuracy is to change the threshold for acceptance, based on the amount of time elapsed between tests. Khoury said updating a model frequently can help account for voice aging. He studied more than 400 recordings of Barack Obama’s public speeches from the beginning of Obama’s first term through the end of the second and found that recalibrating the biometric model significantly reduced the effect voice aging had on the score.

“You can update the model with each new recording, but that’s risky if someone is able to attack the system and compromise the model,” Khoury said.

View the on-demand session:


In an age of such aggressive attacks, voice biometrics alone will not offer the multi-layer approach organizations should implement to fully secure their call center. Phoneprinting provides universal protection for all incoming calls to the contact center, allowing contact center agents to identify unknown attackers on their very first call while also creating a robust intelligent blacklist of known attackers. Contact centers are empowered with the technology necessary to stop fraud loss, reduce operations costs, protect brand reputation and compliance, and improve the customer’s overall experience.

Learn more about Phoneprinting.


Last week, Pindrop joined nearly 35,000 attendees at the NRF Annual Convention and EXPO in New York City. According to speakers from the event, retail brands will need to focus on their customers, their technology, and their leadership in 2017. Customer priorities are constantly adapting as available technology changes. These new innovations and technical capabilities will continue to transform the retail experience for customers, and brands will need to hone in on how to administer an experience that is not only timely, but also secure. According to Vishaal Melwani, CEO of menswear retailer Combatant Gentlemen, “there will be more emphasis placed on the omnichannel experience as companies continue to look for fresh ways to connect with consumers through the intersection of offline and online” in 2017.

While the retail experience is becoming increasingly omnichannel, retailers are still neglecting the phone channel, the weakest link in security, as a common point of access for customers. Despite the intent to administer positive customer experiences, contact centers agents often fall victim to the methods that enable fraud attacks. Today, Caller ID is freely spoofed and knowledge-based authentication questions (KBA’s) are easily bypassed. Criminals either socially engineer the answers, find them online, or purchase them on the black market. Fraud efforts are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to fool contact center agents into processing fraudulent card-not-present (CNP) transactions.

According to Aite Group, an independent research firm, 72% of executives expect call center fraud loss to continue to grow, with $4 billion in counterfeit card fraud moving into the phone channel. These fraud attacks increase operational costs, decrease customer satisfaction, and jeopardize brand reputation as customer data is repeatedly lost to fraud. Retailers’ existing security systems are not robust or secure enough to handle the increasing volume of data filtering across web-enabled devices and processes. A digitally-influenced retail experience may enable brands to conduct business from a variety of access points, but it is also putting their enterprises under siege. By adopting next-generation security measures, including data loss prevention methods, cloud-based solutions, and contact center protection initiatives, retailers are sheltering sensitive digital content and lessening their exposure to fraud.

Businesses of all sizes need to assess which data is most at risk from a cyberattack and ensure their security solution protects against potential threats. Learn more.


Analysts at Aite Group have identified five key security and service steps that legacy solutions are failing to perform. These are the features that are keeping Caller ID, KBA, and voice biometrics from being viable anti-fraud and authentication solutions for the contact center. With 61% of account takeovers traced back to the contact center, this $400 million problem needs immediate resolve.

Protecting personal data in the contact center relies on a best-in-class security solution that benefits both the organization and the customer through:

  1. Universal Coverage. Customers must be authenticated and fraudsters must be identified on their first call. This prevents fraudsters from being able to enroll as illegitimate customers and alleviates customer privacy concerns.
  2. Accuracy. The right solution accurately differentiates between legitimate and illegitimate customers. Legacy solutions, such as Caller ID verification and KBA, fail to provide the accuracy needed.
  3. Speed. Contact center agents must be informed about the legitimacy of callers before they provide access to personal data. KBA takes a long time, which frustrates legitimate customers and offers fraudsters many chances to collect data.
  4. Low Friction. Customers want service that requires little effort on their part. Most voice biometrics solutions require an enrollment process, which leads to longer call times and lower customer satisfaction.
  5. Foolproof Technology. Fraudsters are currently using voice distortion, spoofing, social engineering, gateway hacking, and more to circumvent traditional security measures. The right solution needs to withstand these attempts to break through protection.

How do the largest global contact centers stop fraud and protect their customers?

According to a recent survey of 25 executives at 18 of the 40 largest US financial institutions, Phoneprinting is the highest ranked contact center anti-fraud solution. Pindrop’s patented technology analyzes 147 different factors in the audio of a phone call in order to create a unique signature that allows contact centers to accurately detect fraud. Avivah Litan, VP Distinguished Analyst at Gartner, describes phoneprinting technology and voice biometrics as “complementary technologies” that mutually benefit both contact center agents and security teams. This phoneprint allows a fraud analyst to create a unique signature for an illegitimate caller, while also determining the caller’s true geographic location, device type, and more. Unlike a phone number or a voice, this information is impossible for fraudsters manipulate. Phoneprinting allows Pindrop’s customers to catch over 80% of fraud calls with less than a 1% false positive rate.

Phoneprinting provides universal protection for all incoming calls to the contact center, allowing contact center agents to identify unknown attackers on their very first call while also creating a robust intelligent blacklist of known attackers. Contact centers are empowered with the technology necessary to stop fraud loss, reduce operations costs, protect brand reputation and compliance, and improve the customer’s overall experience.

Join Pindrop’s Director of Research, Dr. David Dewey, on November 15 to learn more about how Phoneprinting helps the largest global contact centers protect customers and fight fraud.



The wealth of information housed by contact centers can be leveraged by fraudsters for data mining and cross-channel attacks. In an effort to prevent phone fraud, many businesses implement authentication methods; however, most fail to administer the authentication required to provide a layered defense system. As social engineering and fraud technologies have become more advanced, standard authentication methods have proven to become less sufficient. “You have to assume the criminals can get through one layer [of authentication]; they can get through two, they can even get through three,” says Avivah Litan, Vice President with the consultancy Gartner. “But if you have multiple layers, up to five, and you’re continuously authenticating that user and continuously looking at their activities against their profile, you should be in pretty good shape.”

Multiple layers of security allow organizations to meet regulatory requirements and effectively safeguard customer data. Knowledge-based authentication (KBA), has served as a standard authentication method for years; however, 10-15% of KBA fails entirely, proving that authentication requires another layer of security in order to ensure data protection. A layered approach to authentication starts with “protecting the endpoint, trying to secure the browser, going all the way up to looking at the navigation, building profiles of users and accounts and looking for anomalies, doing that across channels,” says Litan. This kind of identity assessment analyzes endpoint and user data, metadata, and ehavior as it identifies linkages across and between entities.


No singular authentication method used on its own is sufficient enough to keep determined fraudsters out. Creating a layered defense system makes it more difficult for an illegitimate caller to access desired information, such as a physical location, computing device, network, or database. If one barrier is broken or compromised, the fraudster still has at least one more barrier to breach before successfully accessing the desired information. This system ensures that each layer defends the previous layer, making it more difficult for a fraudster to circumvent the security of the entire system.

Learn More


Aite InfographicAite Group, an independent research and advisory firm focused on business, technology, and regulatory issues, interviewed 25 executives at 18 of the top 40 largest U.S. financial institutions based on asset size in order to provide an accurate evaluation of the most effective technology solutions to protect against fraud. On Tuesday, Aite’s Senior Analyst, Shirley Inscoe, joined Pindrop’s Director of Research, Dr. David Dewey, for an online discussion of the growing threat of fraud in the contact center.

Top 10 Takeaways

  1. As EMV continues to gain momentum in the US, organized fraud rings will move to the phone channel, replacing traditional counterfeit card fraud.
  2. The contact center is the cross-channel fraud enabler. Current authentication factors in the contact center often fail due to various data fraudsters can acquire through social engineering tactics.
  3. The majority of financial institutions (72%) expect contact center fraud loss to continue in an upward trajectory.
  4. The root source of fraud, the contact center, is often misdiagnosed due to fraud enablement in other channels, such as debit card, credit card, and check order takeover – online fraud that exists from reset credentials being reset by the contact center agent.
  5. Fraud will move downstream toward smaller institutions and credit unions as phone fraud solutions are integrated into larger firms.
  6. Organized fraud rings are using automated attacks, specifically robotic fraudsters, targeting interactive voice recordings (IVRs), to keep their cost down while still managing to dramatically increase market coverage.
  7. In the U.S., Contact center fraud is expected to double to a $775 million problem by 2020.
  8. 61% of account takeover losses trace back to the contact center.
  9. For every 1-second authentication is reduced, an organization can save $1 million annually.
  10. Of the 23 different technology solutions reviewed by leading executives, Pindrop’s phoneprinting and voiceprinting technologies hold the highest combined ranking on industry awareness of the product, overall product ranking, and likelihood of recommending to colleagues.

75% of Tuesday’s webinar attendees confirmed having seen a recent rise in fraud. Contact centers will continue to enable cross-channel fraud until technology solutions are implemented to thwart it. Ensuring optimal protection against fraud in the contact center requires multiple layers of security that provide high coverage, high accuracy, high speed, and low friction without being easily fooled by fraud techniques, such as spoofing, voice distortion, and social engineering. Pindrop’s technology provides multi-factor authentication through layered intelligence scores, reason codes, and risk factors.

Thank you for listening!

Catch the on-demand session.


TWIPF2 This week in phone fraud, Pindrop’s CEO discusses voice authentication and Chinese and Taiwanese fraudsters arrested in Turkey.

This week, Financial Times met with Pindrop CEO, Vijay Balasubramaniyan, to discuss the future of voice authentication. Voice is an “extremely rich” and quick way of authenticating someone’s identity.

GB Times reported after an over 70 Chinese wire fraud suspects were deported from Kenya to China in April, a gang of Chinese and Taiwanese fraudsters were arrested in Turkey on suspicion of phone fraud. The gang reportedly stole information from over 3,000 Chinese tourists.




Forbes: Scam Alert: Why the IRS won’t call you – Fraudsters frequently use psychological attempts to scare people into give up personal information used for identity theft. Once the fraudsters have possession of that sensitive information, they can open credit accounts and start stealing away. Generally anyone who asks for money immediately over the phone is a fraudster.

Tech Dirt: AT&T Falsely Blames the FCC for Company’s Failure to Block Annoying Robocalls – AT&T is pointing fingers at the FCC as the cause of the company’s lack of robocall-blocking technology. Recently, the FCC gave permission to the carriers who wanted to offer consumers robocall-blocking services. AT&T is one of the only companies that did not implement such technology.

South China Morning Post: Phone scam targets Hongkongers, exploits rocky relations between China and Philippines – Crime bosses behind an Asia-wide phone scam operation that has fleeced hundreds of Hongkongers out of HK$350 million in less than a year has shifted their sights to the Philippines as law enforcement tightens.

The Morning Call: Arrests Made in IRS Phone Scam – Five more people were arrested in Miami due to their involvement in an IRS phone scamming ring. Accused of stealing over $2 million from 1,500 people, the perpetrators targeted people all over the US. Progress is being made in combatting IRS scams, and the number of successful calls is dropping drastically.

The Journal News: Harrison cops go to Maine to bust phone scammer – Harrison Police traveled to Maine to arrest known fraudster, Donovan Wallace after cheating a woman out of over $23,000. Wallace is also linked to similar scams along the East Coast and a ringleader in Jamaica, where authorities are helping with the investigation.

KRON4- Bay City News: Elderly man falls victim to IRS phone scam in Santa Clara – An elderly Santa Clara man made 3 deposits totaling over $5000 when a fraudster posing as an IRS agent informed him that he was being audited for $5,900. The victim made 3 deposits while on the phone with the fraudster, and 2 were claimed before the police got involved. No arrests have yet been made.


The UK sees more than 2x the amount of  call center fraud than the US

The UK is no stranger to phone fraud in financial institutions. The recent data compiled in 10-global-phone-fraud-rates-01Pindrop’s 2016 Call Center Fraud Report shows that 1 in every 700 calls made to enterprise call centers in the UK is fraudulent. This is over two times higher than the fraud call rate in the US.

A major factor that’s causing the high levels of fraud in the UK is the chip card technology implemented in 2004. Because chip cards make it harder to commit card-present fraud, attackers began to move towards card-not-present channels, notably the call center, to continue making fraudulent transactions.

This shift gives the US valuable insight into the future of call center fraud due to the recent transition of chip-and-pin cards stateside. According to the Aite Group, fraud attacks in the call center grew 79% in the UK following the chip card roll out.

Fraud calls in the UK are mostly domestic

72% of fraud calls to financial institutions originate within the UK. The US sees a much lower number of domestic calls at only 48%. Again, the high percentage in domestic fraud calls is linked to chip cards. When chip cards were first introduced in Europe, card-present fraudsters moved to non-physical attacks like call center fraud, rather than relocate out of the country. In addition to the UK, similar trends have been seen in other European countries who have implemented chip cards. France, for example, saw an increase in domestic card-not-present attacks by more than 360% between 2004 and 2009 (Iovation, Fighting CNP Fraud: 5 Things to Consider).


Most UK fraud comes from mobile devices

UK financial institutions see 64% of fraud calls coming from mobile devices, while the US only sees 37%. In the UK, it is easier to program mobiles phones to show a restricted caller ID. In fact, 70% of fraud calls in the UK use a restricted caller ID rather than spoofing a phone number, a common trick in the US.


The state of call center fraud in the UK gives us a glimpse into the future of fraud in the US. Phone fraud has risen 45% since 2013 stateside. Fraudsters will go down the path of least resistance, which in financial institutions is the phone channel. As physical and cyber security increases and data breaches become more frequent, bad actors exploit data over the phone. To combat fraud, financial institutions should implement security solutions around authentication and voice biometrics to ensure the safety of their customers.

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TWIPF2 This week in phone fraud, cheap technology makes phone fraud easy and Pindrop analyzes 10 million calls for latest research.

This week, Wall Street Journal reported that telephone scammers posing as tech support, lottery reps or even government officials are inundating U.S. homes as cheap technology and the rapid rise in Internet access globally makes it easier to set up an unlawful phone operation.

Bankless Times reported that Pindrop’s analysis of more than 10 million calls to UK and US-based enterprise call centers looks at vertical impact, attacker device type and location along with trends and vectors used by organized crime groups.



On the Wire: Phone Fraud Scam Targets College Students For ‘Federal Student Tax’ – The FTC is warning about a new variant on phone fraud scams that attempts to bully college students into paying a non-existent student tax. The scam is similar to many of the IRS phone scams that have been ongoing for several years, but with the novelty of pressuring students who likely are much more vulnerable.

Beta News: 5 popular tactics scammers and hackers use to steal your identity – Beta News reported that fraudsters are using reconnaissance, social engineering, and vishing among other tactics to steal identities. These tactics, although sneaky can be enacted through a simple Google search or phone call.

The Lincoln Journal Star: ‘Barrage’ of political robocalls before primary election leaves regulators looking for fixes – Nebraskans are receiving a barrage of calls. Leading up to the primary election, a new salvo of political robocalls hit Nebraska phones essentially every day for 60 days straight.

Edmonton Journal: ‘Digital swatting’ may be behind worldwide school bomb threats, including one in Edmonton – Two schools in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan were among those that received phone threats of explosives being present in school buildings, and police forces in Alberta are exploring the possibility of a link between the threats.

CBS6: Worried grandma loses $40,000 in phone scam – A Virginia woman was a victim in a Grandparents Scam attack when a fraudster posing as her grandson asked for bail money following his arrest. After a 12-day period and several wire transfers, she realized the caller was not her grandson, but in fact a fraudster.


TWIPF2 This week in phone fraud, Hong Kong banks to implement voice recognition in their call centers, and prank calls could land you in jail.

This week Find Biometrics stated Citi and HSBC banks, two of the largest in Hong Kong, are preparing to launch biometric identification systems for their call centers. This transition will improve both customer service as well as efficiency in the call centers, according to the banks.
The Washington Post reported that the potentially lethal form of prank-calling known as swatting might soon come with 20 years of jail time. The bill that just passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and will soon be in a floor vote in the House.




BBC: The prank call crimewave – After a string of prank calls that led to several fast food restaurants smashing their windows, BBC Trending looked at similar events from 2009. Using a now defunct website, pranksters have been organizing themselves to initiate these calls.

BBC: Gang jailed over pensioner phone scam – Eight men from London have been jailed for a phone scam that defrauded UK pensioners out of more than ₤1m. One accomplice to the crime was X Factor contestant Nathan Fagan-Gayle who received a 20-month jail sentence for money laundering.

Huffpost Crime: Military Phone Scams: Phone Fraud and Identity Theft a Growing Issue for Military Personnel – Recently, fraudsters have moved towards military personnel who are currently serving to steal identities from. These con artist will use social reconnaissance to obtain profile pictures and social media posts to convince victims to send money overseas.

Consumerist: FCC Trying To Minimize Annoyances From New Robocall Debt Collection Loopholes – After a bill passed last fall that included a loophole to allow debt collectors to use robocalls to chase down consumers, the FCC is fighting for a way to lessen the frustration by limiting the amount of robocalls made.

ITProPortal: When vishing and phishing attack – Because of the success of phishing attacks, social engineers have turned to voice phishing, or “vishing” to extract sensitive information from victims over the phone. ConsumerProtect.com has created an infographic on the subject.

Los Angeles Times: Getting phone calls seeking divine assistance? You may be a victim of ‘spoofing’ – A Long Beach resident says he’s received dozens of calls from seekers of divine assistance from a televangelist known as Prophet Manasseh Jordan. Callers claim that the resident’s number appeared on their Caller ID screen during Jordan’s robocalls.

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