Telesign is one of those companies that you’ve probably never heard of but that provides services you likely use on a regular basis, especially if you have two-factor authentication set up for any of your online accounts. Based out of L.A.’s “Silicon Beach,” Telesign helps companies verify that a mobile number belongs to a user (sending those oh-so-familiar “verify that you received this code” texts) and takes care of the mobile part of two-factor authenticating or password changes. Among their over 300 clients are nine of the ten largest websites in the U.S., says Telesign’s CEO Steve Jillings, though he’s shy about naming them (at least on the record). He says that fraudulent and fake accounts are greatly reduced for customers who require a mobile number be attached to an account.
Billions of phone numbers — it sees deals with daily to provide a new service: a PhoneID Score, a reputation-based score for every number in the world that looks at the metadata Telesign has on those numbers to weed out the burner phones from the high-quality ones. Yes, there’s yet another company out there with an inscrutable system making decisions about you that will effect the kinds of services you’re offered.
“Companies simply send a user’s phone number to TeleSign via its REST API to receive a real-time score, risk level and a recommendation,” says the company in a press release. “TeleSign’s clients use this predictive data to prevent scammers and fraudsters from abusing services such as creating fake accounts, and for approving online transactions with greater confidence.”
“We each have a unique mobile identity tied to our phone number that is linked to a wealth of information, from where we live to our online activities. This makes the phone number the most efficient and conclusive method to identify fraud online,” said Telesign’s CTO Charles McColgan in the release. “PhoneID Score introduces a new way for companies to quickly verify transactions, block fake accounts, and prevent eCommerce fraud, based simply on a phone number.”
Telesign sees phone numbers as a replacement for social security numbers — a form of identification that can be instantly verified (thanks to your holding it in the hand), that comes with details about who owns it, what kind of phone it is (land line, mobile, VOIP, etc), how long they’ve had it, where they get their service, and which companies and apps they’re attached to.
A rating below 200 will tell a company to roll out the red carpet for you. He didn’t seem to think the differences in the scores mattered and could not explain what might account for the 10 – 200 range, though one of those 200-scored accounts is less than a year old. Between 400 and 600 would lead to a fuller review, and anything over 600 would be flagged as a potentially fraudulent or abusive account, and likely blocked from signing up for that service. So what determines the score?
Telesign pulls where the phones were registered and who provides the service. The older an account is, the better. And if the number shows up as attached to legitimate accounts with companies, apps, and websites to which Telesign provides services, that’s a good thing. Having a newly-opened account results in a lower score, or using a less-well known carrier, or having a number that’s not registered with some of the customers for which this company does two-factor authentication.