Using AI for good – how finance is combating human trafficking

04.16.2024 | Craig Robertson

Human trafficking continues to grow but financial institutions can help using the power of generative and predictive AI

Human Trafficking in Asia Pacific

The latest report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that human traffickers and criminals are generating USD($)10,000 per trafficked person – and generating $62 billion in profits in the Asia Pacific region. Stop-the-traffik estimated that there are 24.9 million people around the world engaged in forced labor.

These are harrowing numbers and represent a significant challenge in reducing the impact on women, children, and men who are in situations of forced labor.

What is Human Trafficking?

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), ‘human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.’

How financial services can help in combating human trafficking

Financial services and related businesses have an opportunity to help stop trafficking by targeting the profit and identifying perpetrators and victims using banking services. In 2018, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) provided guidance on identifying suspicious transactions across a range of forced labor scenarios. Alongside this, Stop-the-traffik highlight that retail banks can also identify indicators of trafficking using ATMs and account opening services.

From 2016, the Canadian Project Protect – long heralded as a success in public-private partnerships, led by industry after inspiration from a survivor of trafficking – took the opportunity to identify victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation through financial intelligence. The Protect project has used the money laundering indicators associated with human trafficking for sexual exploitation to identify victims and create a flow of information to authorities to reduce the impacts of this crime. From Protect, leading banks and survivor organizations launched Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST) through the United Nations General Assembly – showing how the financial services industry can help survivors of trafficking find access to basic financial products and services and rebuild their independence.

Regional challenges of combating human trafficking in the Asia Pacific

In Asia Pacific, the use of forced labor to work in illegal scam centers has impacted the lives of many people – both trafficked persons and the victims of scams. The Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) 2023 Typologies report included a case study about how fake job ads lured people into working in another country. Upon arriving, their freedoms were restricted, and they were required to engage in online scams and phone-based payment fraud. The August 2023 report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights identified that hundreds of thousands have been trafficked to work as online scammers in Southeast Asia – where the illegal scam centers are generating billions of US dollars each year.

How AI in financial services can help stop human trafficking

Opportunity beckons for financial services, payments, and related organizations to use online scammers’ data to spot the indicators that people are at risk and to identify the money flows of the scammers as the proceeds of crime generated by the scam operations centers.

The criminals running scam centers have adopted technology with alarming success – including deep fake to convince people to part with money and AI to generate content to support an elaborate investment scam.

So where is AI in this for the public good? There is an opportunity with generative AI and predictive AI in financial services to counter the misuse of AI by criminals. For example:

  • Researchers in Australia have successfully used AI to deploy chatbots to engage with scammers, consuming their time, and reducing their ability to target victims.
  • Other firms in Europe and Asia have deployed chatbots to help people filter content in their messaging apps or online to identify when something is too good to be true.

When it comes to financial activity and identifying transactions indicating forced labor – we have another opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. We can take the financing indicators of trafficking and the red flags for the movement of the illicit proceeds of scams and use them to reduce the impacts of trafficking and scams in the Asia Pacific region.

Powerful investigation tools using generative AI are here – and give financial crime investigators an AI assistant to quickly source, analyze, and summarise massive amounts of disconnected data. Couple this with predictive AI to spot risk, and we now have a strong use case for AI for the public good to connect industry to government – via the reporting of suspected forced labor or scam activity.


With law enforcement and scam support agencies in the Asia Pacific region reporting record increases in the number of victim reports, coupled with the alarmingly high number of trafficked persons into sexual exploitation and forced labor, financial intelligence provides an edge to prevent these crimes.

Combating trafficking as quickly as possible can save people’s lives from being destroyed and put a stop to the profiteering of transnational organized crime groups.

Learn more about using AI in financial services and how your organization can take the lead in combating human trafficking.

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