Member Spotlight: Patreon


February 16, 2018

Q&A with Maritza Dominguez, Trust & Safety Manager - Fraud, Chargebacks, Account Security

As technology steadily evolves, subscription payments are increasingly more popular. Is this the wave of the future?
I believe so. Look at the popularity of services like Netflix or Apple Music; more and more content is viewed as subscription based. Patreon is about long-term sustainability for creators, based around the idea of membership. What we see is that creators are not only seeking to build a reliable monthly income, but also a deeper fan connection. Creators have their biggest fans engaging with them in a really meaningful way, which can both impact a creator's output as well as the things they do to engage with their audience.

What is the most common type of fraud experienced at Patreon?
Like all eCommerce sites we get targeted by fraud rings. While many of them are relatively easy to catch, such as the very obvious fake creator that shares an IP and device with a group of very obviously fake patrons, every month is like a game of chess. We have encountered fraud rings that essentially scraped pages from other sites, so they look quite authentic. I have also found fraud rings that were on completely different IPs and devices, and nothing linking them except my gut feeling. Fraudsters definitely keep me on my toes.

How does Patreon stay ahead of fraudsters? What tools, processes, and education do you enlist to continue evolving and innovating?
Initially, the Trust & Safety team was a team of one, me. But after a year it became obvious that I couldn't stay ahead of fraudsters on my own any longer. We are now a team of 4, and we have added some automation to catch the obvious fraud and are constantly refining the rules that feed a fraud queue. We have also enlisted the assistance of data science and engineering. The important thing to remember is the investment has to be equivalent to the fraud you see. You don't want to do battle using a giant tank if the fraud you see is minimal.

Patreon is speaking at MRC Vegas 2018 in March. Can you share a few highlights about the discussion?
I'd love to! I put together a panel of women who come from other small sized teams in tech and we will be speaking about our experience expanding our teams. Many large sized companies have full teams with dozens of reps, it's a very different and sometimes daunting experience to be a team of 1 and realizing you need additional help. There is no handbook or how to guide to ask for more resources. So "the ask" can be tough if you don't know how to go about it. And once your request for additional resources is approved, that is not the end of the fun. How do you figure out how much help you need or where to focus it? What does your candidate pool look like? And then there is the salary range... it's all a tangled web. We want to share our experiences with the highs and lows of expanding our own teams. And maybe save some folks from unnecessary heartache.

Patreon is less than 5 years old. What are the greatest challenges you face in the world of fraud prevention as a startup? Likewise, how does the creative, innovative and fresh culture of a startup contribute to the success of your organization?
Honestly, I think that anytime a start-up is launched, fraud prevention is never part of the initial roll out. It's definitely something thought of later once it becomes a problem. Which can be a big challenge because fraudsters have already gotten a big head start. Our business also lends itself to other forms of fraud you may not see in a traditional eCommerce business such as creator impersonation.

The amazing thing about startup culture is if people are passionate about the problem, you can get help from across the organization. Everyone at Patreon is already doing something creative, so brainstorming ideas is always exciting and fruitful. Many out-of-the-box ideas and solutions come from other parts of the organization because no one is pigeonholed by the constraints of "what's been done before" or "this is how it's done." This allows us to be both flexible and targeted in our approach to fraud prevention.

With GDPR just around the corner and increased concern of consumer privacy, how can businesses ensure the security of their users' safety?
Fortunately, my Trust & Safety team won't have to worry about GDPR; we will let the Legal team take care of that! In all seriousness, my main concern is in the event of ATOs (account takeovers), which unfortunately with so many recent large-scale breaches, like Yahoo, will affect us all in 2018. I also worry how preparing for GDPR and possible fines after its implementation will affect small companies like Patreon. These are both big ticket items. I believe there needs to be a partnership of sorts between consumers and businesses to ensure everyone is safe. Educating consumers about password reuse and how to use strong, unique passwords is a big step in the right direction. And businesses need to implement strong authentication of users and not be scared to establish a verification process before allowing access to their data.

What's next for Patreon?
For the Trust & Safety team, what's next is growth! I want to expand the team and cover more ground. We have established some pretty reliable fraud prevention, so I think it's time to start experimenting and looking for the "hard to find" fraud. I am also very interested in doing a deep dive into chargebacks. I have always just disputed chargebacks, but we have not started working on prevention and education. I really want to start tracking chargebacks and see if I can make some strides in the winning category! Account security will also be a big focus for us in 2018.

What's next for Patreon the company? The output of what our creators make and share is valuable. Creators have to feel confident in building membership programs and helping their audience to recognize that with their membership support. Patreon is focused on helping creators capture value for their work through the best products and services for membership. To that end, Patreon is focused on building out the best tools for membership. On the product front, we are exploring areas like merchandise and better ways for creators to manage their fans and patrons, plus many more items. From a marketing perspective, we know that creators want more information about running a membership including best practices and case studies. We've been doing a lot to provide these resources to our creators and will continue to do so. Last year, Patreon disbursed more money than the NEA in a single year and we look forward to growing even more!