BNPL is the latest fraud target—and providers should act quickly to avoid losses

What’s been on our minds: We’ve been thinking about the rise of online fraud coupled with the surge of buy now, pay later (BNPL) activity—and how these two factors might affect consumers this holiday season. Some of the industry’s most popular BNPL players have seen a rise in fraud, according to fraud experts who spoke to CNBC.

BNPL fraud can occur in two common ways:

  • Account takeover occurs when fraudsters gain access to an existing BNPL customer’s account to make unauthorized purchases. Lax identity verification and checkout processes can facilitate this type of fraud.
  • Fake account opening involves bad actors stealing personal information to open a BNPL account under the guise of someone else’s identity. This can happen when the methods BNPL providers use to determine creditworthiness—like proprietary algorithms or soft credit checks—miss fraud indicators like an email address or phone number that doesn’t match the applicant.

Why it's worth watching: The number of US BNPL users is expected to hit 45.1 million this year, per Insider Intelligence forecasts. And 30% of holiday shoppers say they expect to use a BNPL plan to stretch their budget, according to Deloitte.

To maximize sales potential this holiday season—which is projected to rack up $1.092 trillion in sales, per eMarketer forecasts from Insider Intelligence—BNPL providers are introducing new offerings and forging deals.

  • Afterpay recently launched a solution that lets consumers pay for recurring charges in installments, which can spur new growth as subscriptions become more popular: Nearly three out of four consumers have at least one active subscription, per ACI Worldwide.
  • Klarna just brought its Pay Now option—which lets customers pay in full wherever Klarna is available—to the US. This can make the provider attractive to consumers regardless of whether they intend to use an installment plan.
  • And earlier this month, Splitit partnered with ecommerce platform provider Wix so its merchants can offer a BNPL payment option at checkout.

The big takeaway: Rising BNPL activity gives fraudsters more opportunities to game the system—making it more important than ever for BNPL providers and merchants to strengthen consumer safeguards.

  • BNPL providers can enable tighter identity verification—both during account opening and checkout. This could resemble partnerships with firms like Jumio, which use AI-based identity verification and authentication to help providers reduce fraudulent purchasing activity.
  • Merchants can also work with fraud prevention specialists like Vesta that use machine learning technology to pick up on unusual purchasing activity that may be linked to fraud. Fraud mitigation helps merchants maintain customer loyalty and prevent financial losses.

Without fraud guards, BNPL providers run the risk of losing customers who might fall back on other payment methods—like credit cards, which may have higher fraud protections compared with BNPL—because of distrust.

Related content: Check out “The Buy Now, Pay Later Report” to understand how and why BNPL providers have risen to prominence and learn about some of the key players in the space.