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New mobile payment scams: 2021 predictions by McAfee

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By Suhail Ansari, SVP of Engineering and Operations, Consumer at McAfee and Dattatraya Kulkarni, Consumer Chief Technologist at McAfee

As users become more and more reliant on mobile payments, cybercriminals will increasingly seek to exploit and defraud users with scam phishing or smsishing messages containing malicious payment URLs.

Mobile payments have become more and more popular as a convenient mechanism to conduct transactions. A Worldpay Global Payments Report for 2020 estimated that 41% of payments today are on mobile devices, and this number looks to increase at the expense of traditional credit and debit cards by 2023. An October 2020 study by Allied Market Research found that the global mobile payment market size was valued at $1.48 trillion in 2019, and is projected to reach $12.06 trillion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 30.1% from 2020 to 2027. 

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has driven the adoption of mobile payment methods higher as consumers have sought to avoid contact-based payments such as cash or physical credit cards.

But fraudsters have followed the money to mobile, pivoting from PC browsers and credit cards to mobile payments. According to research by RSA’s Fraud and Risk Intelligence team, 72% of cyber fraud activity involved the mobile channel in the fourth quarter of 2019. The researchers observed that this represented “the highest percentage of fraud involving mobile apps in nearly two years and underscores a broader shift away from fraud involving web browsers on PCs.”

McAfee predicts there will be an increase in “receive”-based mobile payment exploits, since they provide a quick mechanism for fraudsters that combines phishing or smsishing messages with payment URLs.

This could take shape in schemes where fraudsters set up a fake call center using a product return and servicing scam, where the actors send a link via email or SMS, offering a refund via a mobile payment app, but the user is unaware that they are agreeing to pay versus receiving a refund.

In the same way that mobile apps have simplified the ability to conduct transactions, McAfee predicts the technology is making it easier to take advantage of the convenience for fraudulent purposes.

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