Anthony Hynes, Managing Director and CEO, eNett International
Travel fraud is escalating at an unprecedented rate. In 2017, fraudulent attacks cost travel intermediaries a whopping USD21 billion.[i]
By 2020 that figure is expected to spiral (reaching USD25 billion) as both the number and sophistication of aspiring fraudsters continues to rise.[ii]
Popular new fraud methods, most notably the rise of the ‘fake hotel’, inflated room prices, and dodgy tickets, are leaving online travel agents (OTAs) frustrated and out of pocket.
So, how can travel agencies battle the cybercrime scourge? As eNett’s report, Fraud in Travel Payments highlights, the travel industry can begin to stem the cybercrime epidemic by raising industry awareness around evolving fraudster tactics, and improving industry knowledge on cybersecurity best practices.[iii]
Here are just a few of the top fraudulent tactics to be aware of, alongside some simple mechanisms that travel agencies can implement to improve their security defenses.
The rise of the sophisticated fraudster
Fraudsters targeting the travel industry are becoming ever-more ingenious in their methods, utilising technological advances to strike their victims. Recent developments in travel payment fraud include:
- The ‘fake hotel’:
The notorious ‘fake hotel’ scam is claiming more and more victims. In recent months, fake chalet websites, such as Alps.stay.com (now suspended), have conned unsuspecting holiday-makers out of tens of thousands of euros.[iv]
It is not just consumers who are falling victim to fake hotel scams. Fraudsters are also listing fake properties on an OTA’s website and then using stolen credit card details to make fake bookings.When the OTA then goes to make a payment to the fake hotel, it receives a chargeback. However, by this point, the fraudster will already have withdrawn all the funds paid by the OTA and won’t respond to any contact attempts, leaving the OTA facing financial losses.
- Inflated room prices and supplier collusion:
Fraudsters are also colluding withgenuine hotels tocon OTAs out of their cash. This common scam involves fraudsters approaching a hotel and persuading them to raise the cost of its rooms on an OTA’s site. Using stolen card details, the fraudster will then book these rooms at artificially inflated prices, leaving the OTA to suffer chargebacks, while helping to boost profits for the hotel (who can provide documentation relating to the attendant guest). This provides perpetrators with an easy income.
- ‘Dodgy tickets’
The growing influx of ‘dodgy tickets’ is another scam infiltrating both OTAs and their customers. Fraudsters are now using stolen credit card details to purchase last-minute tickets to tourist attractions and then rapidly selling these tickets on via social media platforms at a discounted price. In this situation, the tourist attraction operator or OTA is left out of pocket after a chargeback, or when the customer arrives at the attraction they find their ticket has been cancelled (as the initial ticket purchase has been reported as fraudulent).
So, how can OTAs strengthen their defences against savvy fraudsters? Here are a few best practices they should follow:
- Know your supplier
To tackle fraud, travel agencies need to ensure they are performing appropriate due diligence during supplier onboarding to limit the risk of scams such as ‘the fake hotel’ phenomenon and ‘inflated room prices’. Even a trusted relationship requires attention, since rogue employees may enter organisations at any time or fraudsters could infiltrate payment-related systems and platforms.
- Implement internal controls
OTAs should also implement internal regulations to ensure no single employee has complete control over transactions. To support red flagging of transactions, without fear of retribution and reprimand, there should be a ‘maker’ that enters the transactions, followed by a ‘checker’ who validates data and sanctions the transaction.
- Use payment methods that offer protection mechanisms
Travel agencies need to make sure their payment methods offer a certain level of protection against fraud. Virtual cards, for example, offer a range of control mechanisms that help to lessen the risk of fraud without impeding the flow of legitimate payments. These can only be used once, can incorporate card specific activation and expiry dates, and can include limitations on usage down to a single merchant category or even a single specific merchant. In addition, to help travel intermediaries potentially recover funds should fraud occur, eNettVirtual Account Numbers (VANs) also offer sophisticated chargeback capabilities.
- Introduce fraud pattern reporting and analysis
Rapid detection and reporting on fraud is also essential to aid recovery and inform prevention efforts. Reporting should include information such as IP addresses, account numbers, time of booking, routes or locations included, suppliers, price paid, item price, fluctuation history, time to departure or stay, and other key data points. This information should then be analysed to identify fraud trends and inform preventative activities moving forward. Effective fraud analysis can also lead to a decrease in false positives and less friction for legitimate customers.
To beat fraud, OTAs are starting to play fraudsters at their own game and become more sophisticated in their security measures. Employees should be: educated on ever-evolving fraudster tactics, up to date with the latest know-how on cybersecurity best practise, and aware of the advanced technological solutions now available to them. Only by doing so, can OTAsbegin to stem the cybercrime tide and tackle their own vulnerability.
UK might need negative rates if recovery disappoints – BoE’s Vlieghe
By David Milliken and William Schomberg
LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England might need to cut interest rates below zero later this year or in 2022 if a recovery in the economy disappoints, especially if there is persistent unemployment, policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said on Friday.
Vlieghe said he thought the likeliest scenario was that the economy would recover strongly as forecast by the central bank earlier this month, meaning a further loosening of monetary policy would not be needed.
Data published on Friday suggested the economy had stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown hit retailers last month, while businesses and consumers are hopeful a fast vaccination campaign will spur a recovery.
Vlieghe said in a speech published by the BoE that there was a risk of lasting job market weakness hurting wages and prices.
“In such a scenario, I judge more monetary stimulus would be appropriate, and I would favour a negative Bank Rate as the tool to implement the stimulus,” he said.
“The time to implement it would be whenever the data, or the balance of risks around it, suggest that the recovery is falling short of fully eliminating economic slack, which might be later this year or into next year,” he added.
Vlieghe’s comments are similar to those of fellow policymaker Michael Saunders, who said on Thursday negative rates could be the BoE’s best tool in future.
Earlier this month the BoE gave British financial institutions six months to get ready for the possible introduction of negative interest rates, though it stressed that no decision had been taken on whether to implement them.
Investors saw the move as reducing the likelihood of the BoE following other central banks and adopting negative rates.
Some senior BoE policymakers, such as Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden, believe that adding to the central bank’s 875 billion pounds ($1.22 trillion) of government bond purchases remains the best way of boosting the economy if needed.
Vlieghe underscored the scale of the hit to Britain’s economy and said it was clear the country was not experiencing a V-shaped recovery, adding it was more like “something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery.”
“I want to emphasise how far we still have to travel in this recovery,” he said, adding that it was “highly uncertain” how much of the pent-up savings amassed by households during the lockdowns would be spent.
By contrast, last week the BoE’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, likened the economy to a “coiled spring.”
Vlieghe also warned against raising interest rates if the economy appeared to be outperforming expectations.
“It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.
Higher interest rates were unlikely to be appropriate until 2023 or 2024, he said.
($1 = 0.7146 pounds)
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by William Schomberg)
UK economy shows signs of stabilisation after new lockdown hit
By William Schomberg and David Milliken
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s economy has stabilised after a new COVID-19 lockdown last month hit retailers, and business and consumers are hopeful the vaccination campaign will spur a recovery, data showed on Friday.
The IHS Markit/CIPS flash composite Purchasing Managers’ Index, a survey of businesses, suggested the economy was barely shrinking in the first half of February as companies adjusted to the latest restrictions.
A separate survey of households showed consumers at their most confident since the pandemic began.
Britain’s economy had its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020, when it contracted by 10%, and will shrink by 4% in the first three months of 2021, the Bank of England predicts.
The central bank expects a strong subsequent recovery because of the COVID-19 vaccination programme – though policymaker Gertjan Vlieghe said in a speech on Friday that the BoE could need to cut interest rates below zero later this year if unemployment stayed high.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due on Monday to announce the next steps in England’s lockdown but has said any easing of restrictions will be gradual.
Official data for January underscored the impact of the latest lockdown on retailers.
Retail sales volumes slumped by 8.2% from December, a much bigger fall than the 2.5% decrease forecast in a Reuters poll of economists, and the second largest on record.
“The only good thing about the current lockdown is that it’s no way near as bad for the economy as the first one,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
The smaller fall in retail sales than last April’s 18% plunge reflected growth in online shopping.
BORROWING SURGE SLOWED IN JANUARY
There was some better news for finance minister Rishi Sunak as he prepares to announce Britain’s next annual budget on March 3.
Though public sector borrowing of 8.8 billion pounds ($12.3 billion) was the first January deficit in a decade, it was much less than the 24.5 billion pounds forecast in a Reuters poll.
That took borrowing since the start of the financial year in April to 270.6 billion pounds, reflecting a surge in spending and tax cuts ordered by Sunak.
The figure does not count losses on government-backed loans which could add 30 billion pounds to the shortfall this year, but the deficit is likely to be smaller than official forecasts, the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank said.
Sunak is expected to extend a costly wage subsidy programme, at least for the hardest-hit sectors, but he said the time for a reckoning would come.
“It’s right that once our economy begins to recover, we should look to return the public finances to a more sustainable footing and I’ll always be honest with the British people about how we will do this,” he said.
Some economists expect higher taxes sooner rather than later.
“Big tax rises eventually will have to be announced, with 2022 likely to be the worst year, so that they will be far from voters’ minds by the time of the next general election in May 2024,” Samuel Tombs, at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said.
Public debt rose to 2.115 trillion pounds, or 97.9% of gross domestic product – a percentage not seen since the early 1960s.
The PMI survey and a separate measure of manufacturing from the Confederation of British Industry, showing factory orders suffering the smallest hit in a year, gave Sunak some cause for optimism.
IHS Markit’s chief business economist, Chris Williamson, said the improvement in business expectations suggested the economy was “poised for recovery.”
However the PMI survey showed factory output in February grew at its slowest rate in nine months. Many firms reported extra costs and disruption to supply chains from new post-Brexit barriers to trade with the European Union since Jan. 1.
Vlieghe warned against over-interpreting any early signs of growth. “It is perfectly possible that we have a short period of pent up demand, after which demand eases back again,” he said.
“We are experiencing something between a swoosh-shaped recovery and a W-shaped recovery. We are clearly not experiencing a V-shaped recovery.”
($1 = 0.7160 pounds)
(Editing by Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)
Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output
By Devika Krishna Kumar
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.
Brent crude futures were down 33 cents, or 0.5%, at $63.60 a barrel by 11:06 a.m. (1606 GMT) U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents, or 1%, to $59.92.
This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.
“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.
Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.
Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.
Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.
“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.
Oil fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the big freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]
The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.
“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.
(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Jason Neely, David Goodman and David Gregorio)
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