WhitePages PRO Taps Phone Data and More to Identify CNP Fraud
By D.J. Murphy, Editor-in-Chief
In the Internet stone age of 1997, when Alex Algard founded a Website that put a national phone directory online, he appropriated the generic name WhitePages to evoke the old phone book that showed up periodically on front porches, at the end of driveways and in mailboxes. Fifteen years later WhitePages.com and its sister Websites (411.com, Address.com, PeopleSearch.com, PhoneNumber.com and Switchboard) comprise one of the largest repositories of consumer and business contact information on the Web. The company counts 40 million unique users and performs approximately 2 billion searches each month.
As time went by, those billions of searches began to reveal some interesting information about those millions of users and what, exactly, they were trying to accomplish. Algard, the company’s CEO in addition to being its founder, says analysis showed many cases of multiple searches originating from a single IP address.
“We noticed time and time again that certain users were conducting up to dozens of searches in a day,” Algard says. “We researched where these searches were coming from and it turned out that e-commerce merchants were using Whitepages.com as an improvised, ad hoc solution to prevent fraudulent transactions. They were doing searches on phone numbers to verify addresses and reverse lookups to match phone numbers to names.”
Armed with that intelligence on its users, WhitePages set out to create an entirely new service offering designed especially for the card-not-present merchants that were using the traditional service to validate data they were collecting at checkout. With the amount of data available to the WhitePages family of Websites, Algard was certain the company could devise an antifraud offering for merchants that was far more sophisticated and effective than a mere address search.
The result was the 2011 launch of WhitePages PRO, a comprehensive antifraud platform that leverages the mountains of data the company has accrued since its launch and that it updates continually as this data is refreshed or new data points are added through public and proprietary sources.
WhitePages PRO is available to merchants and service providers in two ways. Merchants can integrate WhitePages data into an existing fraud detection process through an API or they can access a Web-based interface enabling them to look up the information they require.
Initially, WhitePages PRO tapped into its database of more than 300 million phone numbers (which includes mobile numbers) and was able to provide merchants information that included full name, names of other people living in the household, past addresses, age and location. For merchants taking card-not-present orders, any of this information can be used to indicate fraudulent transactions, Algard notes.
But, this year, the WhitePages solution added capability the company feels provides unique data points for companies engaged in fighting fraud in e-commerce and other CNP transactions. While many of the data sources the company taps for its information are proprietary, Algard says the post office is now supplying WhitePages PRO with a piece of information that is a very good indicator of a fraudulent order.
“One of the ways fraudsters successfully complete transactions after making a fraudulent order online or over the phone is to have the merchandise delivered to a vacant address,” Algard notes. “They wait until the delivery person drops it off on the front porch or steps and then simply grab it and go. Our partnership with the United States Postal Service enables us to let merchants know if the address provided at checkout actually has someone living there or if it’s currently vacant.”
The address of an unoccupied residence is only one way WhitePages PRO leverages its database to flag potentially fraudulent orders. In addition, according to Algard, the company now can tell if a phone number supplied during checkout is a a non-fixed VoIP phone. Any of those data points are enough to identify an order as suspicious, but if several exist together in the same order, WhitePages PRO can help merchants make a determination with reasonable certainty that the order is definitely fraudulent.
“Being able to tell whether or not a phone number is non-fixed VoIP is a fairly positive indicator of fraud,” Algard explains, “especially when considered in the presence of other factors such as a home being vacant or a home being listed as the residence of multiple unrelated people.”
Fundamentally, WhitePages is a company that amasses and organizes data. Lots of data. And, while it took the company’s users to uncover one particular use of this data, Algard recognizes the significant potential his database has on a card-not-present retailing industry looking for a way to protect itself.