Get to Know James ‘MrConnectivity’ Williams, Leading Mobile Industry Fraud Fighter, with XConnect

Discover the man behind the mission: James Williams, a leading force in the fight against mobile industry fraud. As the Business Development head at XConnect, James brings unparalleled expertise to the table, dedicated to fighting fraud in A2P SMS and Voice traffic. With over 30 years of experience under his belt, James illuminates the pivotal role of mobile number intelligence in safeguarding businesses against fraud. In this exclusive interview, we explore James’ insights and strategies for maintaining seamless engagement experiences while thwarting fraudulent activities. But there’s more to James than meets the eye – join us as we uncover his personal interests, from hobbies to childhood dreams! 

Can you elaborate on your role within the mobile number intelligence sector and how it contributes to reducing fraud for companies utilising A2P SMS and Voice traffic?

At the beginning of 2024, I joined the leading provider of authoritative phone number data, XConnect to head up Business Development. Data points associated with our mobile numbers in particular are coming to be just as important as our national ID cards or passports when it comes to building trust and the world of Identity and Verification. Without launching into too much of a sales pitch, XConnect’s access to over 8.5 million number ranges, mobile number portability information and reach for so-called HLR lookups (simply put the ability to check the status of mobile phone numbers live) enables our clients to reduce fraud, and indeed their cost base, on a number of fronts.

Think how many numbers the largest enterprises globally have in their client database. Going through those being able to identify numbers appearing in it that might not even have been assigned by a network helps instantly. How can a number not assigned appear as belonging to a customer? It can’t. Also, there’s a huge problem in the world of Voice with premium numbers. Think of a contact centre. Every interaction managed by a contact centre costs the enterprise a good chunk of money. Imagine a lot of these interactions being with numbers actually not belonging to enterprises’ clients. And being premium. Bots generate fake client profiles, requesting a callback to a number that just happens to cost a fortune at the point the call is connected. Eliminating those types of numbers alone saves XConnect’s clients tens of millions every year alone, if not more.

In what ways do you see fraud impacting businesses in the realm of mobile communication, and how does your expertise help in mitigating these risks?

The bigger any industry becomes and the more money there is associated with it, the juicier the target it becomes for bad actors. This is most definitely the case when it comes to the world of Business Messaging which is growing and growing globally. 

Let’s talk about messaging aggregators, the companies who send out SMS on behalf of businesses. We all receive such messages each month. Aggregators charge for every message submitted, not necessarily delivered. If a number is of incorrect length, if it is actually unassigned, by an operator, if it’s premium, if the originating number is on a specific database of numbers from which texts should never be seen originating (so-called “Do Not Originate” lists) then such numbers should not be appearing as destinations for the aggregator to deliver to. 

If tried, the delivery would fail but the enterprise would be charged. Ensuring everything is done to clean the databases prior to sending out campaigns, for example, can save huge amounts of money and reduce fraud too.

What are some key indicators or red flags that businesses should be vigilant about when it comes to detecting potentially fraudulent activities in their mobile communication channels?

Given authoritative data about our mobile numbers is key to ascertaining a level of trust, if you can see a number has very recently just been ported (moved from one network to another) and if the number is being forwarded (so call forwarding enabled), then these two attributes alone should throw up a huge red flag for the validity of any transaction in play involving the number in question. Almost certainly a fraud attempt is afoot and the transaction stopped in its tracks.

What advice would you offer to individuals looking to build a successful career in the Telco and Anti-fraud sectors? 

I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years now and in order to get the best from it, I’ve definitely had to be flexible in so many ways. It pays to be curious and if you don’t know something, just ask. 

My experience has been that in almost all circumstances, people are willing to spend a bit of time with you taking you through things, providing you show genuine enthusiasm and interest. And, like everything in life in general, never assume anything. Assumption really can be damaging in so many ways.

Can you share any cautionary tales or lessons learned from past experiences that could benefit other businesses in their efforts to safeguard against mobile fraud?

I’ve come across a few businesses who were super excited about their recent growth but it turned out that a huge chunk of the new client accounts online were ultimately fake! 

They had been created by fraudsters’ bots to drive revenue from the generation of two-factor authentication related SMS sent to associated numbers. So not only did those enterprises not have the growth they had thought, they were left nursing a ‘high SMS invoice from their business messaging provider’ headache! 

The industry is doing a lot more to prevent such frauds and collaboration between stakeholders in not-for-profit organisations such as the i3forum and the  Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) is the way to go here.

Could you share some specific strategies or technologies you’ve implemented to enhance fraud protection in A2P SMS and Voice traffic delivery?

Organisations can only detect and prevent fraud if they have full visibility of everything going on in their network, and in the A2P SMS and Voice worlds, the key players in my mind are the mobile operators. After all, they own the relationships with us subscribers. Every mobile operator should have a firewall and associated expert managed service capable of monitoring, controlling and ultimately monetising as efficiently as possible. Whether SMS or Voice. I always advise operators to partner with external specialists in this sector as operators are experts in P2P (Person-to-Person) transactions, not so A2P ones. Whilst having some enterprise clients, mobile operators’ focus is on delivering services to the billions of individual mobile subscribers globally.

How do you balance the need for robust fraud protection with maintaining seamless mobile engagement experiences for end-users?

A wonderful question. It’s a not often talked about fact that accidentally blocking genuine content is more often than not far more damaging than allowing spam etc. through. Imagine blocking the likes of a one-time password being delivered via SMS to somebody finalising a big-ticket transaction online. Not good. This can impact a customer’s brand perception massively and lose people money. Think online share dealing, gambling etc. 

Anti-fraud technologies and the processes that go with them need to be implemented in a measured way, resisting temptation to close things down too rapidly. Adding too many extra steps to transaction processing can annoy clients too and leads to friction, abandoned carts etc. too. Getting the balance right sure isn’t easy but it’s critical.

For businesses operating in highly regulated industries, what additional considerations should they take into account when implementing fraud protection measures for their mobile communications?

My advice boils down to “If it looks too good to be true then it almost always is”. Think price! There tends to be an established reasonable price range for many services and if a company comes along offering something materially no different from anything else but at a vastly lower price-point, there has to be a reason. I am totally aware that in most countries, organisations are free to determine whatever commercial model they want. And so it should be. But just be mindful that in my experience noticeable outliers might just not be offering what you are expecting…

What overarching advice would you give to companies striving to strike the right balance between mobile engagement and fraud prevention in today’s digital landscape?

No organisation, no matter how big, how many resources they have etc., will ever achieve the perfect balance all the time. The regulatory situation is constantly shifting. People are different all over the world. Think culture, the economic situation at hand, levels of general trust, pre-existing levels of fraud in the country and a multitude of other factors.

Finding balance is a tough tightrope to traverse but whatever any company does, they need to take real care to prevent introducing too much friction in customer processes and blocking genuine transactions. There are some great, trustworthy, independent experts operating in the anti-fraud world to whom mobile engagement players can turn to rapidly. Zero needs to reinvent the wheel and they’d save a heap of time bringing in the experts rather than trying to do things in-house themselves all the time. And of course, this is where XConnect comes in! I couldn’t not slip in a little plug right here at the end, could I?!

Besides your work, what are some hobbies or interests that you’re truly passionate about?

A little-known fact is that I am a fully certified personal trainer so I enjoy the fitness and body composition optimisation journey but I’m not obsessive about it. I know exactly what I should be eating but, sorry folks, I simply like my chocolate way too much! I’m aware this is where I SHOULD be saying how much I like reading too but what comes next is the reality of the situation! I’ve been a fan of online gaming for over 20 years and have owned an Xbox since they first appeared for sale in the UK back in 2002 and on that platform, Halo is my poison.

What’s one travel destination on your bucket list that’s not typically found in travel guides, and what intrigues you about it?

The city of Detroit in the USA. It used to be the car manufacturing centre of the world but the city has fallen on some very hard times. There are however some pockets of growth and signs of recovery and seeing the full history of the place laid out in front of my eyes would be very interesting.

Let’s explore your creative side. Do you have any hidden talents or artistic pursuits that you enjoy?

Admittedly far from being musical or artistic in any way, shape or form, the couple of times I have been recently stretched to paint something, I actually ended up really enjoying the process. I don’t think my works would ever sell for millions although, that said, some sold today for that sum are (to my eyes) sub-optimal to say the least, so who knows! Beauty after all is in the eye of the beholder…

What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?

“Treat all as you would want to be treated yourself.” Common courtesy is increasingly falling by the wayside today but a smile and a thank you don’t cost anything. Plus, people genuinely appreciate the warmth and often remember you for it too which is no bad thing in many situations.   

 We often hear about your professional achievements, but can you share a personal achievement or moment in your life that you’re particularly proud of?

It’s amazing just how much influence experiences young people have in later years. And how you remember them. At school I was not the sportiest of kids. Far from it. I was really terrible and I remember one lunch break playing football on a team against the sportiest of the lot, I scored the decisive winning goal from way out. The losers were literally gobsmacked and I just walked off the pitch. Any Premier league player would have been proud of it! Weird how such things stick with you.

Outside of your professional roles, what’s something you’ve always wanted to learn or try but haven’t had the opportunity to explore yet?

I can’t put my finger on just one as there are simply too many. I enjoy meeting people who are exceedingly good at (or knowledgeable about) something I have no real clue of and hearing about or learning from them. Time and funding permitted; I would be picking up so many very different skills all over the world. 

If you could have a one-hour conversation with any fictional character, who would it be, and what burning question would you ask them?

Captain William Adama of the Battlestar Galactica, the leading character in a sci-fi show which first aired in 1978, he was a highly effective military commander and very pragmatic leader. 

His refusal to network the ship he commanded, Galactica, meant it survived the (here comes the science bit) Cylon attack and Fall of the Twelve Colonies. In simple language a good number of humans survived thanks to him! 

Whilst I appreciate the benefits much of technology brings with it, like Captain Adama, I don’t trust or rely on it implicitly for everything. My question to him would be how he was able to stand his ground and refuse having his ship networked under the undoubted weight of pressure from all sides to do so. There are some things in life when you just know but actually being able to stand firm and not waver can be very difficult.

What was your dream job as a child? 

Running an airline! I have always been interested in commercial air travel and am a bit of a frequent flyer geek so any questions you have about airline loyalty programmes in particular, you know who you can come to! I fell rather by accident into the world of Telecoms 30 years ago and am still enjoying it. Unfortunately, it is too late in my career now to switch industries. I think…

What is your life motto?

I was born in 1972. The brand Nike appeared shortly before me and I’ve shamelessly adopted their tagline – Just Do It!

If you were to create a playlist that represents your life journey so far, what are the top three songs that would be on it?

Pump Up The Jam  by Technotronic, Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode and Need to Feel Loved by Reflekt – the Adam K and Soha vocal mix version, please!

If you had to sum up your life philosophy or a guiding principle in just one sentence, what would it be?

Whatever you’re doing, put your all into it, do the best you can and, at first, if you don’t succeed, try again but vary the approach slightly. And try and enjoy the ride life takes you on, wherever and with whomever that might be!

Finally, if you were to write a personal letter to your younger self, what advice or words of wisdom would you offer?

You’ve got two eyes, two ears and one mouth. Look and listen far more than you speak.

For further insights and resources on combating fraud and protecting consumers in the mobile ecosystem, be sure to check out the following:

Want to ‘MG Meet’ our industry experts? From CEOs to business consultants & career advisors, we’ve got you covered!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *