Shoshana Maraney
by Shoshana Maraney • May 11, 2017

Holidays, online fraud

Fraud and theft are probably not the first things you think of when you think about Mother’s Day. For most people, there’s no connection at all. If you're an e-commerce merchant, though, there is a connection - and it's a worrying one.

For online retailers, Mother's Day is a chance to be the go-to store for customers searching for gifts to show appreciation for their mothers.

It’s also a time to make sure they’re not the go-to store for fraudsters looking to take advantage of the day to steal items — which almost certainly are not intended for their moms!

Why Mother’s Day Represents an Opportunity for Fraudsters

Online criminals are attuned to the fluctuations of the e-commerce ecosystem. They’re alive to the possibilities presented by alternative forms of payment, they test different verticals to identify weaknesses they can exploit, and they use holidays to mask their activities. There are three things they’re exploiting here.

  1. During holiday buying seasons, consumers act in ways which are somewhat predictable. For Mother’s Day, they’ll be searching for presents that are appropriate for moms. A fraudster can use that knowledge to target items which are plausible for this time of year. We’ve even seen some who’ve searched for popular Mother’s Day gifts, and then gone to purchase some of those they've seen listed!
  2. Items which are appropriate to the holiday are easier to resell quickly, since lots of people are searching for those sorts of gifts. And as a fraudster can afford to offer the product at a very competitive price - since they never paid for it anyway - it’s especially easy for them to find a buyer.
  3. Retailers hate to turn away good customers at any time, but that’s even more true during a holiday. Customers looking for specific products (which happens, when buying gifts) who come across a new site may well try it out - and if they have a good experience, there’s a good chance they’ll come back. The last thing a merchant wants to do is mistakenly reject their order as fraud.

This means that accurate online fraud detection is especially important around holidays. Merchants need to be able to distinguish between fraudsters who are manipulating the trends of the time of year, and good customers making legitimate purchases.

Sticking to What They Know

Fraudsters don’t like to move outside their area of expertise if they can help it. If they’re very familiar with a particular industry and its norms and vulnerabilities, their preference will be to use that knowledge where possible.

So they will probably stick to the area they’re most comfortable with for Mother’s Day - they’ll just tweak their usual buying patterns to suit the holiday. For example, a fraudster who specializes in luxury watches or jewelry will stay in that comfort zone, but they’ll make sure that they’re buying ladies’ watches, and mother-appropriate jewelry, perhaps even ones which have been mentioned in lists of gifts for Mother’s Day, rather than the generally popular watches or evergreen engagement rings they might try to steal normally.

Of course, this tendency means retailers have to be especially careful, since they’re up against criminals who already know the space. On the other hand, it means an online fraud detection system which excels at making connections between returning or repeating customers (even if they’re trying to hide) has an advantage, since it’s likely that a site is being attacked by fraudsters who’ve been there before.

Top 10 Gifts Trending for Fraudsters This Mother’s Day

We took a look at the Top 10 gifts fraudsters are targeting this Mother’s Day. As you might expect, there’s a range of industries and verticals represented.

Here are a few of the items from the list, to give you a taste. As you can see, fraudsters go for all sorts of goods. It’s all about the ROI for them. If they can make a profit selling it on, without too much effort on their part, then they’re going to try to steal it.

Jewelry and luxury watches such as Tissot and Kate Spade. Ladies’ watches, of course. The ticket value range they’re going for this year reflects the changing trend we saw over 2016. Rather than go for the most expensive Rolex they can find, fraudsters are cannily targeting lower priced but still valuable brands, knowing retailers are less particular about checking orders of this nature.

Blueberry muffin energy bars and other sweet snacks. You’d hardly think it was worth a fraudster’s while to steal these sorts of treats, but they’re surprisingly popular in the criminal community, possibly because buying in bulk online is common and so reselling is relatively simple. With an appropriately personalized message, this can pass muster as a Mother’s Day order too.

Fashion sneakers - Adidas Gazelle, Saucony, Bensimon. Certainly plausible as a gift for a mom who loves sport or comfort, their popularity means that these shoes are easy to resell after the holiday is over as well as beforehand. And since it’s not uncommon for customers to buy the same shoe in more than one color, fraudsters often try to get away with a multiple purchase, upping their ROI.

Home and garden - Strange as it may seem, home and garden products are popular with fraudsters. It’s not uncommon to buy these secondhand, which means it’s easy for an unscrupulous person to resell items they’ve stolen. And some of these goods, such as white goods, are fairly pricey, which means good ROI for the criminal. With a mild uptick in home and garden products for Mother’s Day, it’s a great time for a fraudster to try for these items.

Gift cards - This almost goes without saying, since gift cards are always a firm fraudster favorite. From the criminal perspective, these are so easy to monetize that it’s practically like stealing money. Mother’s Day is a great time to conceal a theft, and fraudsters often use sentimental greetings, even if they're sending to themselves, to help their order look more legitimate.

BitcoinAn up-and-coming entry, going up steadily as virtual currency becomes more popular worldwide This is the first year we’ve seen any interest in bitcoin during Mother’s Day, but it seems that conversations during which children discussed the concept of bitcoin with their parents have borne fruit and this is one of this year’s (admittedly rarer) and more creative presents. Unfortunately, it’s an opportunity for fraudsters, too, who can take advantage of the fact that most people aren’t completely familiar with the norms of buying bitcoin yet.

Want to find out more about some of the other Top 10 Mother’s Day items - from the fraudster perspective? Check out the article on Moneyish.

To compare these Mother's Day items against the fraudster favorites from the 2016 holiday season, check out this ebook.

DOWNLOAD FRAUDSTER WISHLIST