Football, mobile phones and money laundering

Written by Mary Munford on Monday July 18, 2016

Bright ideas are the lifeblood of any business or organisation. The same applies to money launderers, who always seem to be coming up with new techniques of their own, or abusing entirely legitimate systems and technologies, in order to stay a step ahead of law enforcement and other authorities.

Back in 2012, we reviewed some money laundering cases at the quirkier end of the scale. Four years on, here’s a quick round-up of some new ways financial criminals have been using to ‘wash’ dirty money around the world.


Prison officers

In the US, 19 former or current inmates of Georgia state prisons, and 15 serving or former prison officers, were among those charged in January 2016 in a wire fraud, money laundering and fraud investigation.

The charges related to a scam involving inmates accessing the Internet via mobile phones – smuggled in by the officers or other prison employees – to obtain the personal details of targets. They then called the victims, posing as law enforcement officers, telling them they had unlawfully failed to appear for jury duty and convincing them to pay a fine using prepaid cash cards in order to avoid arrest.

In the UK, small businesses were recently warned to be on the alert for emails or calls from overseas ‘investors’ keen to put money into start-up firms. The investors then paid money from other criminal activity, such as online dating frauds, into the victim business’s account, in small amounts to avoid raising red flags.


Football sector

As a result, business owners have been convicted of money laundering. One, the boss of a start-up engineering firm, told City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau: ‘The first contact I had was by email from an investment company in the Middle East. They only transferred a few thousand pounds at a time so the bank never questioned it.’

In May this year, Portuguese police cracked a ‘cell’ of a Russian-led, transnational organised crime group, which was focused on money laundering through the football sector. Its technique was to provide short-term financial support to a club in difficulty, to win its trust, then buy the club, with the source of the funds – and the real owners – hidden through complex corporate structures, including offshore shell companies. A Portuguese club was bought in this way, as a gateway to laundering through techniques such as over or under-valuing players or betting.


Flight attendants

Money laundering is not always high tech. In a case that sounds as though it came from a 1960s crime caper film, media reports highlighted a March 2016 case in which Colombian authorities made 13 arrests – said to include those of ‘beautiful airline flight attendants’ – involved in a huge money laundering ring, on behalf of drug gangs. Techniques used in importing dollars and euros included suitcases with double bottoms.                                                     

Police and other authorities in Spain and Germany, along with Europol and EU judicial co-operation unit Eurojust, teamed up in a May 2016 operation that included simultaneously searching 38 homes in seven Spanish cities to break up a network illegally distributing pay TV channels through pirated decoders and the Internet. Proceeds were laundered through techniques including bitcoin mining – creating bitcoins – with six bitcoin mining centres uncovered during the investigation.

These cases are very different but they do have one thing in common: we know about them because they were detected. And the more we know about the way financial criminals work, the better placed we are to nip their activities in the bud. That way, the good guys are the ones staying a step ahead of the baddies.

That’s exactly what the ICA’s qualifications in anti money laundering, compliance and financial crime prevention are designed to do: give you future-proofed skills and knowledge that will help you and your company to protect against risks both now and in years to come – including the ones that don’t exist yet.



If you would like to find out more about ICA qualifications, we’re running a series of free information sessions at locations around the world in 2016, so why not book your place to find out how studying with the ICA could help enhance your career?



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