MY BRILLIANT CAREER: Travelling the world to stop internet criminals

BRENDON Williamson is the general manager of business development at PayGate, a payment service provider. He tells Margaret Harris that, to understand the methods used by online fraudsters, you have to learn to think like they do.

Tell me what you do.

I track online payments to pick up suspicious behaviour that may indicate that someone or an organisation is doing something illegal. For example, ordering 10 luxury handbags from Estonia when the customer could easily find the bags in the local market and avoid the shipping costs and a three-week delay.

With the use of investigative techniques from the FBI and Scotland Yard to solve crimes, we monitor online buying trends, match patterns and put suspicious customers through a process of elimination to detect fraud.

To understand the fraudster’s methods, you have to be trained to think like a fraudster in certain aspects. The psychology tells us that the individual will always slip up and go back to their standard modus operandi at some point — you just have to be able to identify the normal from the abnormal.

What are some of the most interesting cases you have worked on?

My career in e-commerce risk management has taken me around the globe. Much of my work has entailed consulting directly to some of the biggest online casinos in the world on risk management and anti-money-laundering practices.

I have also worked with Skype at its headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia. It faced similar online fraud threats as a start-up merchant. Working with Skype was a career highlight for me due to the size of the user base and the company’s specialised systems in combating fraud. I worked with highly skilled analysts who spend their day tracking and monitoring customers’ purchasing habits, then building specialised tools to identify negative customers.

I was involved in closing down a fraud syndicate that used stolen credit cards (about 150 of them) to run up a total bill of more than $2-million. Syndicates have various ways of moving money between stolen cards that quickly add up to millions if left unchecked

When you work in e-commerce, you need to extend your thinking beyond the walls of a standard brick and mortar business. The cases I worked on forced me to push the boundaries and to be agile when implementing solutions to prevent fraud.

What qualifications do you have and how do they help you do your work?

I am certified in online forensics and fraud management and I have diplomas in contact-centre and marketing management.

What was your first job?

My first job was at the age of 13 when I worked as a shop assistant in a fruit and veg store.

How did you get from there to where you are now?

From a young age I was taught that if you want it, you need to go get it. My grandfather taught me one profound lesson: “Don’t dress for where you are, but for where you want to be.” In other words, if you want to be the CEO of a global corporation, dress like one. Being observed gets you introductions.

It has been hard work. At times I have had to sacrifice a title to ensure I was in the right place where I could be noticed and prove my worth.

It can’t all be good — sometimes you need to take a little bad [but] this equips you for future possibilities.

I have done everything from packing trucks and constructing houses to managing call centres and consulting to billion-dollar companies. What I have learnt is: never compromise on service — and if you say you are going to do something, do it. When I was packing trucks, I knew I wanted to wear a suit one day, so I just kept going — in the end I got to shop in the London High Street.

As someone who fights online fraud, what advice do you have on how to keep yourself safe when shopping online?

Always look for reviews on the website you are purchasing from -this will give you a good indication regarding authenticity as well as how they manage their customers. Don’t enter your credit card details into an unsecure website — always make sure the payment page identifier starts with “https”.

If you have many credit cards, select one card that will be the card you use for online shopping. Reduce the limits accordingly, so if it does get picked up, your exposure is limited. Avoid shopping from internet cafés or public computers.

Read the online store’s terms and conditions regarding the storing of your credit card details carefully. In almost all cases, never give your credit card information over the telephone. The most important of all: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

An architect or actor. The architectural side came from my enjoyment of technical drawing and design, and the interest in becoming an actor was because I always thought it was interesting to be able to play different personalities.