New research by We Fight Fraud (WFF) shows that cashless payments increasingly drive illegal activities, with the modern criminal preferring socially-distanced bank transfers, online fraud and illicit sales via social media. This development is not new: in 2010, the FBI released information according to which fake eBay stores were a popular enabler of money-laundering and criminal activities.
We Fight Fraud (WFF)—a UK-based organisation that takes a holistic approach to tackling the arms race between criminals and businesses—recently published a white paper titled ‘How COVID-19 Forced Criminal Commerce into the Digital Banking Age’ that includes research conducted within the criminal underworld.
Using its unique access to illicit trade, WFF reports criminals are moving towards laundering the proceeds of their illegal activities via bank transfers and the trade of goods on social media. This is a serious concern for the banks, FinTech organisations and companies being used to facilitate fraud.
We found the preferred option for criminals is now bank transfers, while some are also using PayPal or premium rate telephone numbers to send funds.
The paper’s findings also highlight the importance of social media in connecting legitimate businesses with criminal enterprises. One IT professional provided WFF with information on how to purchase cannabis via Instagram. He paid by bank transfer and received the drugs—delivered direct to his door by the UK’s national postal service, Royal Mail—within 36 hours.
The researchers spoke to people on both sides of the law, seeking to understand the extent to which legal and illegal networks are entwined. Their findings indicate there is much work to do in disentangling the two, and protecting businesses from being exploited by criminals. It also shows cash is not the enabler of crime it has been portrayed as.
Criminal behaviour has adapted, innovated and evolved during the current crisis. There was an assumption that the decline of cash would make life more difficult for criminals. Our findings show the reverse is true.
The report concludes that as the world changes, so too does crime. Tony Sales, a WFF advisor, explains that ‘analogue gangsters are a thing of the past’ and criminals of all levels are migrating their activities online.
As the illicit economy grows in a time when the majority of society is socially distancing, long held assumptions about the cash-based nature of the criminal world need to be challenged.