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Card Fraud Values Often above Average
Recent data from the Federal Reserve Payments Study remind me of my first experience with payments fraud as a 20-something college grad freshly arrived in Boston. I left my wallet in a conference room, and someone lifted my credit card. I still remember the metaphorical punch to the stomach when the telephone operator at the card company asked, "Did you spend $850 at Filene's Basement?" $850! That was more than twice my rent, and far more than I could conceive of spending at Boston's bargain hunters' paradise in a year, let alone on a one-night spree.
Decades later, the first thing I do to check my card and bank statements is to scan the amounts and pay attention to anything in the three digits. For noticing high-value card fraud, this is a pretty good habit.
That's because, on average, fraudulent card payments are for greater dollar values than nonfraudulent card payments. In 2016, the average value of a fraudulent credit card payment was $128, almost 50 percent more than $88 for a nonfraudulent credit card payment. For debit cards, the relationship was more pronounced: $75 for the average fraudulent payment, about twice the $38 average nonfraudulent payment, according to the Federal Reserve Payments Study.
Even to the noncriminal mind, this relationship makes sense: get as much value from the card before the theft or other unauthorized use is discovered. For a legitimate user, budgetary constraints (like mine way back when) and other considerations can come into play.
Interestingly, this relationship does not hold for remote payments. In 2016, the average dollar values of remote debit card payments, fraudulent and nonfraudulent, were the same: $68. And the average value of a nonfraudulent remote credit card payment, $151, exceeded that of a fraudulent remote credit card payment, $130. Why the switcheroo?
A couple of possibilities: Remote card payments include online bill payments, which often are associated with a verified street address and are of high value. So that could be pushing the non-fraudulent remote payments toward a high value relative to the fraudulent remote payments. Another factor could be that fraud detection methods used by ecommerce sites look for values that could be outliers, so perpetrators avoid making purchases that would trigger detection—and thus average values for remote fraud are closer to average values for remote purchases generally. But this is speculation. What do you think?
The relationships described here are depicted in figures 21 and 28 of the recent report of the Federal Reserve Payments Study, Changes in the U.S. Payments Fraud Landscape from 2012 to 2016. You can explore other relationships among average values of payments, and more, on the payments study web page.
By Claire Greene, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed