Friday 17 July 2009

A History of Battling Payment Fraud

On Wednesday I popped into The Manchester Museum, and as I strolled into the “Money" collection of exhibits, I was greeted by a bunch of friendly guys sat behind a desk. The desk had various old coins laid out and a sign stating “Please DO Touch”. After a couple of minutes of weighing up and flipping various 2,000+ year ancient Alexander the Great and Roman coins, naturally me being me I started chatting about the fraud aspects, when one of the guys produced a Chinese bank note from the 14th century, which was safely housed in a protective plastic cover. This particular note happens to be one of the oldest surviving banks notes in existence. Now the Chinese invented and started using paper money around 960 following a metal shortage, without copper, silver and gold they couldn’t meet the demand to make coins, although there is evidence of cruder forms of paper money being made by Chinese centuries earlier, but these weren't widely adopted. The construction of the Great Wall of China was financed by printing paper money, which has echoes of our approach to resolving the current financial crisis.
As you can see from the picture the Chinese bank note depicts stacks of coins to show its value. However what I thought was particularly fascinating is the warning; on the bank note it states anyone attempting to produce a copy of the note will be executed. So we can see with this ancient creation of a new payment method, came the understanding to protect it against fraudulent exploitation. Without the death penalty deterrent I doubt if the first bank notes would have ever taken off.
I think Marco Polo describes the Chinese bank note invention best in his book The Travels of Marco Polo (Il Milione).
“All these pieces of paper are issued with as much solemnity and authority as if they were of pure gold or silver; and on every piece a variety of officials, whose duty it, has to write their names, and to put their seals. And when all is duly prepared, the chief officer deputed by the Khan smears the Seal entrusted to him with vermilion, and impresses it on the paper, so that the form of the Seal remains printed upon it in red; the Money is then authentic. Anyone forging it would be punished with death”
Whatever the payment form, be it gold bullion bars, coins, bank notes or payment cards, thousands of years of history shows there has always been a non-stop game of cat and mouse between the payment method issuers and those who seek to take advantage, the fraudsters. I thought this game play was clearly evident when I observed a display of the various examples of bank notes used within the UK over the past few decades, where gradually over of the course of time, bank notes were printed on different harder to acquire types of paper, used more complex design patterns, then watermarks and then holograms.
Modern Bank notes has plenty of anti-counterfeit protection
Now payment cards have actually been around for many decades, but the mainstream usage of plastic payment cards, which we are continually becoming more reliant on instead of cash, really started to take hold from the mid 1980s. As with the evolution of bank notes, which increasingly used anti-counterfeit measures, we see the exact same principles in battling fraud with payment cards, and their originally unintended usage in the Internet payment arena.
However in recent times the lack of general public exposure of major card payment breaches, lack of policing of the Internet (catching the fraudsters) and indeed the lack of a strong deterrent (remember the death penalty?), has resulted in payment card fraud escalation. So the question is, are the card issuers becoming lazy in playing the cat and mouse fraud game? The publicly known statistics on card fraud show payment card fraudsters are continuing to thrive and are getting away with payment card fraud in ever increasing numbers, and history clearly shows us there is no end game in combating payment fraud.

1 comment:

Mandy said...

Even today fraudulent exploitation still exist. I hope they will be executed for their crime they made.