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By Arwen Heredia /
Trust and safety isn’t linear. The diversity of online fraud and its rapid evolution create unexpected challenges every day, bringing unseen vulnerabilities to light and leaving businesses exposed to risks they don’t even realize they should be ready for.
Sift’s newest Trust and Safety Architect, Rebecca Alter, knows a thing or two about hidden risk because, after a decade in the space, she’s seen where (and why) it tends to grow. Through roles at tech leaders like Stripe and Square, she’s witnessed fraud across every vector and industry change scope, speed, and scale—all while merchants and consumers struggle to sidestep emerging attacks, outsmart advanced technologies, reduce revenue loss, and expand into new markets.
“My journey into the trust and safety field was anything but straightforward,” says Alter. “After college, I moved to Thailand, eventually coming across JAMS, an alternative dispute resolution center. The insights it gave me into how disputes unfold were invaluable.”
The road her experience paved led her to Square, where she initially joined the dispute team. “I instantly became determined to understand what I was doing from the inside out, so I printed out the Visa dispute manual and read the whole thing,” she says. “I memorized it, I highlighted it; I was essentially the only person at Square who really knew the manual.” That dedication earned her a well-deserved nickname: “the chargeback girl.”
Eventually, Square’s dispute team merged with risk operations, bringing Alter further into the growing, layered economy of online fraud and abuse.
“I’ve spent my career dedicated to helping businesses protect themselves against fraud, particularly in the fintech sector. But I really wanted to expand my knowledge and deepen my understanding of fraud across different vectors,” says Alter. “Joining Sift presented an exciting opportunity to support a broader range of customers and delve into diverse fraud scenarios. I also believe that the people behind a company play a crucial role in its success, and Sift’s customer-centric values around making the internet safer for everyone really resonate with me.”
Trust and safety teams encounter unique, unexpected security challenges across the entire e-commerce landscape. Availability of online resources for fraudsters—from how-to guides and fraud-as-a-service vendors to a new crop of generative AI platforms ideal for accelerating payment fraud—have made it easier for digital poachers to steal more faster, and at greater scale.
“Fraud becomes as sophisticated as the technology being used to commit it,” says Alter. “Artificial intelligence poses a significant threat to businesses that remain unprepared to match its speed or account for its accessibility. Highly organized, well-financed attackers are usually what we imagine to be the worst case scenario. But a new generation of part-time fraudsters, using AI for something as simple as spoofing, has the potential to do long-term damage to the users and merchants being targeted.”
And while 78% of consumers are concerned about it being used to defraud them, artificial intelligence will have a profound role in the fight against online fraud, too. Alter highlights two key aspects: its ability to improve speed and accuracy as data is ingested and analyzed; and, its potential for enhancing issue classification and data interpretation.
As they shape strategy with changing technology in mind, Alter advises trust and safety teams to prioritize automation and speed throughout fraud operations, with a particular focus on reducing friction caused by things like issue classification, identity verification, and case management.
“Manual review and research puts immense pressure on under-resourced trust and safety teams,” says Alter. “They’re charged with balancing accuracy against urgency, and the cost of failing is huge—lost revenue, lost customers, lost trust in your business. It’s crucial that risk teams adapt and fine-tune strategies and operations regularly, but they have to have the right tools in place to make it work in the short- and long-term.”
In a space that thrives on change and unpredictability, Alter has a few core tips for trust and safety teams. “I earned the nickname ‘chargeback girl’ for a reason,” she says. “I cannot stress enough how important it is that you thoroughly read and understand the guidelines and compliance regulations your customers are bound by. You don’t have to memorize the Visa guide like I did, but you do need to be able to tailor fraud prevention and dispute management strategies to meet a spectrum of rules, and to see what kind of fraud you’re actually up against.”
Working in fraud prevention means near-constant adaptation, learning, and contextualization of complicated situations. Alter points out that, as more of our lives happen online, it’s crucial for businesses to meet consumer expectations about the security of their digital experiences and data sharing.
Those expectations are high: 83% of consumers would permanently stop shopping with a brand due to an unresolved dispute. Between 43%-68% of consumers would do the same when victimized by account takeover fraud and scams. It’s the prevalence of fraud that makes the average user so risk-averse online; Alter’s encountered multiple incidents that give credence to consumer suspicion. From spending significant time examining terms of service violations related to the sale of drugs in the metaverse, to fighting the consequences of breached personally identifiable information (PII), the fraud we face online is daunting.
One especially unexpected scheme Alter dealt with directly ended in substantial financial loss for the defrauded business. A fraudster signed up to be one of a company’s first 1,000 users, and had studied the platform’s operations closely. They continually adapted their own tactics over time, eventually turning their efforts into a weaponized fraud ring targeting the entire lifecycle of various businesses with account takeover and payment fraud.
“Witnessing how much the field has grown over the years is astounding. There’s always something new to learn, and the ever-evolving nature of it all makes this new role an exciting and wild ride to be on.”
Rebecca Alter is a risk professional with extensive experience building collaborative teams, developing effective processes, and lending a strategic perspective that creates cross-functional trust and partnerships. She resides in the Bay Area with her two cats, Ginger and Mochi. Connect with her on Linkedin.
Arwen Heredia is Sift's Principal Content Marketing Manager. She's a life-long writer and storyteller, dedicated to using the power of language to transform brilliant-but-messy ideas into real-world results that make a valuable impact.
Stop fraud, break down data silos, and lower friction with Sift.