How do cybercriminals launder stolen money?
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) published a report entitled "Follow the Money" in February 2020.
In this report, SWIFT starts with the observation that there is currently no significant record to determine what happens to capital funds after they have been stolen. The company is therefore focusing on detailing how cybercriminals conduct their attacks while ensuring that money can be traced after the theft.
First, the report shows that preparatory activities for cyber thefts include the recruitment of mules. This term refers to individuals trained by cybercriminals to open bank accounts in which stolen money will be placed. Indeed, in order for cybercriminals to receive capital, they are forced to put the money back into the financial system. The mules will also be expected to transfer money through the accounts they have opened, and can also be scapegoats, often being on the front-line during arrests.
The report also highlights the innovative nature of the recruitment methods of these mules. Cybercriminals do this through seemingly legitimate job postings, and social networks to achieve their goals, promising potential candidates a way to earn money easily. The prime targets of cybercriminals are young adults, especially those who need a source of funding for their higher education.
In addition, the report notes the recurrent use of shell companies by cybercriminals. These companies are companies located mostly in East Asia and generally do not include significant assets. They are intended to conceal money laundering processes.
To detect these shell companies, the report offers several clues to help people working in financial institutions, especially in the compliance sector. Thus, the report lists several red flags such as the fact that a company is active in a completely different field from the field it has declared, that there is evidence of the existence of links between several suspect companies or that a company is not engaged in any activity. In addition, the report indicates that the types of companies used as shell companies; are often textile, clothing, fishing or seafood companies.
Finally, one of the notable contributions of the report is to demonstrate the low use of cryptocurrencies in money laundering. Indeed, the report states that situations in which cybercriminals have used cryptocurrencies to carry out money laundering offences are relatively rare. The cases in which criminals have used cryptography, however, have been particularly impressive, some involving sums of money amounting to several hundred million dollars.
In order to protect banks from cybercrime, the report calls on banks to increase information sharing, including through technologies designed for this purpose. The report also stresses the importance of increasing public-private sector relations, particularly with regard to relations between law enforcement and banking institutions.
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