From financial crimes to fiscal footprints

05.25.2021 | By Mark Speyers

Modern slavery and human trafficking traps over 40.3 million people worldwide and generates illicit profits of over $150bn a year for traffickers. Law enforcement correspondingly aims to prevent such harm and protect vulnerable people by investigating these crimes. The good news is that because virtually all crime has a financial motive, it tends to leave fiscal footprints. The challenge is that the understanding of what those footprints actually look like is currently poor because of how fluid and complex crime operations are.

Take human trafficking, for example. Our research has shown that both victims and perpetrators of human trafficking leave distinct tracks as they move through the recruitment to exploitation stages – but those footprints are nuanced and layered. They only become a clear indicator in context of each other and this level of granularity isn’t always well understood, let alone targeted by the financial sector. Today’s rules are simply too generic.

The most effective way to detect these crimes is to understand the different modus operandi (MO) for the crime in question. Understanding how the perpetrators and victims behave within each MO illuminates touch points with the financial system, and it’s these touch points that should be the focus of financial crime detection.

Examining Operation Fort

One way to focus on these financial footprints is to start by examining a real case of human trafficking. We started with Operation Fort, a landmark human trafficking case that has been described as the largest human trafficking investigation ever undertaken in Europe.

DCI Nick Dale, Serious Organised Crime and Exploitation, Force Intelligence at West Midlands Police said, “Throughout this case there were many points at which the criminals could have been caught. There were signs of coercion documented when accounts were opened, the victims had no lifestyle – wages would come into their accounts and leave straight away, often withdrawn from other cities. The employment agency had a seemingly unending supply of Polish immigrants to place in low-skilled jobs, and many people were linked to the same addresses and phone numbers. However, it took one of the victims to come forward at a soup kitchen for this case to break.”

“Operation Fort is a perfect example of this modus operandi for committing labour exploitation, and whilst it is the largest network ever prosecuted in the UK, there may be bigger ones out there going unnoticed.”

By not just investigating, but articulating cases of human trafficking and building out a framework within which we can structure how this crime occurs, financial institutions can understand how to better detect these crimes, and in turn file useful, actionable SARs to help disrupt this activity.

Our latest blog shares insights into our work with West Midlands police on ‘Operation Fort’, a landmark human trafficking case and shares insights into the modus operandi for organised crime groups

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