As General Manager of Corporate Security/Revenue Protection Unit at Delta Air Lines, Paulette Henderson is dedicated to fraud prevention. But she’s even more dedicated to her employer. In today’s world, where the average employee has more than 12 jobs during their working life, Henderson is a rarity — just having celebrated her 35th year with Delta in January.
Henderson feels protective of her employer and she takes her role focusing on mitigating credit card fraud, ticketing fraud, direct-sales fraud, loyalty fraud and new product risk very seriously. “It’s very important to me to protect Delta’s assets; I don’t like a thief,” Henderson says.
Henderson has always enjoyed “being on the path of good,” she says. With a degree in criminal justice, Henderson was first hired as a customer transport representative for Delta, transporting passengers in wheelchairs throughout the airport. “You needed a college degree to do that,” she laughs.
She earned her paralegal certification and eventually moved into the finance department before transitioning into an audit role. Auditing ticketing quality led Henderson to find anomalies and hiccups in some of those ticketing transactions — which eventually led her to the fraud group at the company. “It was a natural transition,” she says.
The breadth of Henderson’s career experiences within Delta has enabled her to know the business intimately and to excel as a leader of the Revenue Protection Unit for the past 20-plus years. During those years, the Revenue Protection Unit has resided under a number of departments, including finance, before finding its way to the corporate safety, security & compliance division within corporate security. To Henderson, that feels right.
“Corporate security is a great place to be because safety and security is top of mind here, and that just makes it a good fit because our focus is protection,” she says.
With her team of five people charged with internal and external fraud mitigation and detection, investigations and eventually working with public agencies for prosecution when applicable, Henderson focuses on continuous innovation and improvement of Delta’s fraud prevention program, with an emphasis on proactive mitigation. Over the past five years, Henderson and her team’s fraud mitigation efforts have delivered more than $180 million in prevented fraud to the company. “We have a small, but very strong team. You can’t do this type of job by yourself. It’s certainly a collective effort,” she says.
Henderson has implemented numerous proactive mitigation strategies during her tenure thus far, including strategic policies, technological automation and artificial intelligence. Being proactive both with and without technology and automation requires a detail-oriented, data-savvy person that is skilled in business language to explain the technical to business leaders and stakeholders, she says.
“When it comes to fraud, you have to develop proactive queries surrounding the organization’s pain points. You have to find what’s most important to your organization and make sure you are monitoring that; and then when you see additional pain points, you can drive policy changes for further mitigation,” she says. “The devil is in the details here.”
One critical pain point at Delta and other organizations worldwide, for example, was internal and external fraud of cash transactions. Henderson was instrumental in moving Delta over to cashless transactions on both airplanes and at airports.
“When cash is in the picture, that process has to be watched constantly because theft is so easy. Moving to cashless just takes that risk away, which is huge,” Henderson says. Of course, with cashless, particularly transactions where the card is not present, the risk of account takeovers and fraudulent transactions are also real risks, but security professionals such as Henderson and her team have data on their side.
“The industry has changed so much in that now we have all this data, and if you can find patterns in the data and know how to analyze the data, you can find those issues, bad actors and risks. These changes have really allowed us to be more sophisticated,” Henderson explains.
For detecting fraud on card-not-present transactions, such as those online or over the phone, Henderson leads Delta’s partnership with Accertify, an American Express fraud prevention company. The 10-year-plus partnership bore immediate success during its first year of deployment, with $29 million in prevented fraudulent transactions for Delta. The partnership scores transactions based on the propensity to be fraudulent and then flagged scores are manually reviewed, helping the Delta fraud team focus on priorities. “When it comes to combatting credit card fraud, this partnership has been my biggest success so far,” Henderson says.
Henderson’s strategies, policy changes and proactive mitigation strategies have enabled her to become a trusted source within the corporate security group, Delta as a whole, the greater airline industry and the entirety of the revenue and fraud protection industry. She is often involved with external fraud forums and is frequently asked to participate in speaking engagements to provide insight into her experiences and lessons learned.
Henderson is active in a number of fraud groups and roundtables consisting of other fraud and risk mitigation leaders across airlines worldwide. She’s also a part of the Merchant Risk Council and is a Certified Fraud Examiner.
Her involvement in networking and sharing experiences and ideas with peers contributes to the collective effort that fraud mitigation commands, according to Henderson. “It’s so important to talk with one another and have open lines of communication. In this industry, many of these bad actors are hitting all of the airlines or multiple companies at the same time, and it has to be a collective effort to share that information,” she says. “Knowledge is power. If you know about it, you can fix it, and that’s a powerful place to be.”
Henderson’s passion for her career has certainly made her successful, but it’s also her simple leadership style that has helped her excel. “Certainly, I’ve had some great leaders in my career and you always take away something from each and every one of those people,” she says. “But mostly, I try to treat people the way I want to be treated and I try to do the right thing.” That sentiment translates across her position and team, her company, the industry and her personal life, she says.