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Lloyds sign up pro poker player Maria Konnikova to fight fraud

"Iris Campos" (2020-03-19)

7 months agoYou might think Lloyds Bank's director of fraud would fancy a break from the day job, but Paul Davis likes to spend his time off reading crime novels.

'It's not an admiration thing for the crooks', he says. 'I read it for the cops and what the cops get up to'.

But while Davis normally prefers fiction, a non-fiction book he read about con artists while on holiday in Italy in 2017 - though hardly your typical beach read - gave him some ideas for when he got back to his desk.

As Paul tells me this, sitting across a long table in a meeting room in Lloyds Bank's offices in the City of London, to my right sits the author of 'The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It... Every Time'.

Poker face: Paul Davis and psychologist, author and poker player Maria Konnikova teamed up to help revamp the bank's approach to scams 

She is Maria Konnikova, a Harvard and Columbia educated psychologist, author rajacapsa and, in recent years, professional poker player - she has reportedly won over $200,000. 

Suitcase packed behind her chair, she is due to fly back to New York that afternoon following four 'quite intense but interesting' days after being parachuted into the freezing London rain to assist in Lloyds' fight against fraud.

Big banks have spent millions of pounds on sophisticated scam prevention systems in response to customers losing millions more to scammers convincing them to transfer funds to them. 





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Last summer, Lloyds said its 'cutting-edge new tool', known as 'The Rat', had already prevented more than £4million in fraud.

But despite these inventions, the scams go on and the sums lost to push payment fraud get bigger. 

In total, £148.2million vanished in the first six months of 2018 compared to £207.5million in the first half of last year. 

All the technology in the world doesn't matter after all if someone still clicks 'send'.

Paul admits: 'Quite often the solutions we've been throwing at the problem tend to be technological.

'But this fraud has a very human element to it, and you can have the best systems to detect unusual payments in the world, but unless you have a high quality conversation with the customer which actually takes account of their mental state while they're being scammed, you might as well turn them off.'

This, he says, is why Maria is here.

Essentially, to assist the bank in revamping its fraud warnings, and use her knowledge of con artists, con victims and human decision making to help one of the UK's biggest banks better talk to its customers.

The 35-year-old's student profile when she was studying for her PhD at Columbia University in New York said she was interested in 'the effects of hot and cool emotional states on self-control ability and decision making, especially under risk and uncertainty.'

Konnikova, 35, has especially focused on the psychology of human beings in 'hot states', and said in such situations we're far likelier to fall victim to scammers

Being called and asked to transfer money, she says, whether it's someone claiming to be your bank, HMRC or the police, is likely to put you in such a 'hot state'.

'When we're in a state like that, we stop thinking rationally. We stop thinking objectively, we become incredibly subjective. We stop seeing logical inconsistencies.

'There's a lot of really interesting psychological work on when people are able to spot logical flaws in arguments, when they're able to spot red flags, and it turns out when you're emotional or in the midst of a story, you stop seeing things you would've seen otherwise.'

The aim then is to get someone out of that kind of state.

'I think what we're trying to accomplish here is cool someone off', she says, 'and one of the ways you do that is by forcing them to take a breath, take a step back, realise no matter what type of con it is, that nothing has to be instantaneous.'

'If someone's telling you they need money right now, that's a problem. How do you get people to reflect, to take a pause, to take a break?' 

To think logically - more like the focus of one of her previous books, fictional detective Sherlock Holmes - than a flustered person thinking they're about to be fined unless they send money to the taxman right that second.

'What we wanted to do', Davis explains, 'was bring in somebody with an external perspective and expertise, and someone who has spent a lot of time with victims, and with fraudsters, and who understands their mental state, and their psychological state, to help us make our warnings even more effective, even better.'

Maria Konnikova's first book focused on thinking like the hyper-logical Sherlock Holmes. She changed tack completely with her follow-up, which focused on the psychology of cons. Her upcoming third book is charting her journey to becoming a professional poker player  

Seven types of fraud to battle 
It's been a lot to cram in in a short space of time. I'm handed a list of seven types of push payment fraud, from romance scams, to scams promising high investment returns to 'safe account' impersonation fraud.