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Take On Payments, a blog sponsored by the Retail Payments Risk Forum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is intended to foster dialogue on emerging risks in retail payment systems and enhance collaborative efforts to improve risk detection and mitigation. We encourage your active participation in Take on Payments and look forward to collaborating with you.

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October 6, 2014

Starting Off on the Right Note with Mobile Enrollment

In Rogers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, the classic song “Do-Re-Mi” begins “Let's start at the very beginning / A very good place to start...” Such a suggestion is essential in ensuring that the person enrolling in a payments system is, in fact, who he or she claims to be. The USA Patriot Act requires financial institutions (FIs) to develop a formal customer identification program that validates the customer when the account is opened. This program must specify the documentation that is used for authentication.

However, once the account is open, FIs have greater latitude in their procedures for identifying customers when the FIs handle account access requests, such as when a customer requests a change of address or enrolls in a third-party program that uses a card that the FI has issued to the customer. At that stage, it’s up to an FI’s own risk-management policies as to what documentation to require.

This situation can be risky. For example, let’s look at what happens when a customer wants to add a payment card to a mobile wallet that a third party operates. When the customer adds the card—enrolls with the third party—how can the FI that issued the card know that not only the payment card being added but also the mobile phone itself belongs to the right individual? How can the issuer efficiently and effectively ensure that the payment card information being loaded on a phone hasn’t been stolen? Adding any sort of verification process increases the friction of the experience and can result in the legitimate user abandoning the process.

Most mobile wallet operators use several techniques to validate that both the mobile phone with the wallet and the payment card belong to the rightful customer. (These operators send a request to the issuing FI as part of their enrollment process.) Some FIs require the operator to have customers submit their payment card information along with their cards’ security code and additional data, such as the last four digits of the social security number. Others may require just the payment card number, expiration date, and card security code, although such a minimal requirement offers little protection against a stolen card being added to a criminal’s phone. Still others require the customer to submit a photo of the payment card taken with their phone to verify possession of the card. If the issuer can obtain some of the phone’s device information, it can increase the level of confidence that the authorized cardholder is using their phone.

Regardless of what process is used, having strong identification controls during the initial enrollment step is essential to a sound risk management program.

Photo of Douglas A. King

By David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

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