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Multi-factor Authentication for Physical Places - How Automated Direct Mail Can Increase Transparency and Reduce Fraud
June 13, 2019

Multi-factor Authentication for Physical Places - How Automated Direct Mail Can Increase Transparency and Reduce Fraud

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Michael Peach

It’s natural to think of direct mail marketing as the retail flyers and credit card offers that hit our mailboxes on a daily basis. However, postal addresses, with their unique connection to a physical place can help bridge the gap between the online and offline world, and provide an important layer of security for digital companies.

The premise is simple. If I claim to be associated with a physical location (say a business or property owner), then I must be able to receive a piece of mail at this location. By sending a piece of mail with a specific code (just like you might get on your phone for two-factor authentication), a business can easily verify if I’m where I say I am. Companies that can automate this process provide a valuable service for their customers without having to deal with the manual overhead of physically printing and sending mail.

Verifying Vacation Rentals

Vacation and peer-to-peer rental services like Booking.com, Airbnb, and CouchSurfing have vastly expanded the travel market by allowing non-traditional properties and homeowners with extra space to be booked in lieu of a hotel. These services offer travelers many welcome new options, but they also present an opportunity for fraud.

Since these services allow individual property owners to create their listing, it’s possible for scammers to create a fake listing, and attempt to collect payments from unsuspecting tourists. Using direct mail to confirm listings are real, significantly reduces fraud.

For example Booking.com uses Lob to automatically send a verification letter any time a new property is listed on the platform. The letter is addressed to the property lister, and sent to the listing address. The lister must receive the letter, log into Booking, and provide the code before their property can go live on the site. Adding this feature helped Booking reduce fraudulent listings on their platform by 97%.

Adding Transparency to the Political Process

The last U.S. presidential election cycle taught all of us to be critical of political news and content, and that content platforms need to be more rigorous in vetting political advertisers. Leaving aside accusations of “fake news”, it’s in everyone’s interest to have more transparency into the sources of political messages. One obvious and important piece of information is where a source is located.

To reduce the influence that foreign groups have on elections, both Twitter and Facebook have introduced new regulations and verifications for political advertisers. On both platforms, a key requirement is for political advertisers to self-identify and verify that they are located in the same country as the campaign they are advertising in. So, an advertiser who wants to place an ad pertaining to an election in the U.S must prove that they are physically in the U.S.

They prove this with direct mail. To register as a political advertiser, organizations must provide a regionally relevant address. Then, in the same way that Booking.com verifies a vacation rental, a letter with a custom confirmation code is sent to the listed address. Only after this confirmation code is validated, can organizations begin to purchase political ads.

Authentically Claiming Business Ownership

Location is a critical factor for local businesses. If I need a restaurant, locksmith, or a mechanic, the odds are that I’d like one that’s close to me. Accessing these businesses through search engines often starts with maps. Scammers are aware of this as well, and attempt to take advantage of these map-based searches.

Map-based scams involve creating fake business listings for service companies that make them appear closer than they actually are. Or, creating fake listings for legitimate businesses that attempt to profit from referral traffic. In both cases, consumers and real local business owners are hurt.

To cut down on fraud, Microsoft’s Bing Places uses direct mail to verify location-based listings. When a new business is listed or a new business is claimed by a user, a postcard is sent to the listed address with a verification code that must be completed in order for a listing to go live. Fraudulent business listings on map platforms are a persistent problem, and automated multi-factor authentication through direct mail is a scalable first line of defense.

Lob Makes it Easy to Automate Authentication Mail

There are a number of situations where businesses can benefit both themselves and their customers by sending direct mail to verify physical locations, but there’s also a cost. Without automation the traditional process of printing and sending letters can become cumbersome. Before switching to Lob, Booking.com had 60 people working on verification mailings, and could only send mail once a week.

Lob’s print & mail API integrates directly within a company’s app or platform, allowing the mail verification to be triggered as a part of a registration or sign-up process. Our flexible HTML templates can be customized for each piece of mail, allowing companies to easily pass in a distinct verification code, as well as reference specific people, businesses, or vacation rental listings.

All of Lob’s mail is created on-demand through our Print Delivery Network with no requirements for batching or minimum volumes. As a result, we produce mail fast—guaranteeing that it will hit the mail stream within 2 business days, and usually reaching the final destination in less than 4. This allows companies to verify locations with minimal delay.

Interested in learning more about how Lob helps companies authenticate physical places? Contact us for a custom demo.

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