The 2018 RESPECT webinar series, The Human Trafficking – Organized Crime Nexus: Intersections, Vulnerabilities, and Analysis for the Private Sector, proposed interesting perspectives dealing with the future of tackling illicit networks, specifically human-trafficking and the need for multidisciplinary coordination. These are some important points from the webinar, and Praescient Analytic’s ability to help the cause:
Human Trafficking: a cyber-enabled crime
Criminal groups increasingly depend on the internet to facilitate their process of targeting victims, transporting them, and collecting payments. This is not to say that they are cyber-dependent, meaning that the crimes can only be done through a computer; rather, human trafficking is cyber-enabled, reducing the risk of the crime while increasing the profitability through the crypto-market. Child sexual exploitation can start online where criminals use social engineering techniques to acquire personal information leading to a physical relationship, sometimes resulting in human trafficking cases. However, using online networks leaves traces that intelligence capabilities can track. Coordination between the private sector and the government can disrupt and even prevent these cases – increased cooperation can lead to increased success rates. The Responsible and Ethical Private Sector Coalition against Trafficking (RESPECT) initiative provides an online resource center laying out the foundation for fighting against human trafficking that highlights the need for technology, entrepreneurship, and law enforcement to compile innovative strategies that work closely with the private sector to find victims and catch traffickers.
The financial sector’s role in countering Human Trafficking:
Until developing technology attempts to take over money movement, the banks are still seen as primary “gatekeepers” to the financial sector. The Bank Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering rules require that banks report SARs (Suspicious Activity Reports) for cases that cannot necessarily be mitigated in hopes to flag money-laundering and terrorist financing cases, for example. Human Trafficking efforts are no exception to this: high volume deposits and immediate withdrawals are red flags to these crimes, but not sufficient evidence. The accurate and relevant intelligence capabilities can string the pieces together, but the financial sector’s cooperation proves to be vital in these efforts. Other indicators of suspicious activity could be high volumes of transactions related to travel and accommodations, excessive payments to advertisers, or even a lack of certain transactions.
The Private Sector and Praescient Analytics:
The private sector together with the intelligence community has the capability to take the SARs mentioned above to provide data analysis of trends and connections to create geographical visualizations that help put a story together. Innovations in software and AI have given companies like Praescient the ability to acquire open source data from mainstream social media websites and blogs, detect suspicious behavior on the Darknet, and, for example, from websites similar to Backpage. This provides intelligence linking criminals across countries together, find who is being trafficked, what kind of trafficking is occurring, and form geographic patterns used by traffickers as either hunting grounds or smuggling routes.
Praescient is proud to have supported great organizations such as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, RAND, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Arizona State University (link) and The McCain Institute in exposing illicit rings worldwide.
This analysis can be done during several stages of the trafficking process that are accomplished online like recruitment through social sites, transportation (purchasing online tickets), communication between victims and suspects, and money laundering through cryptocurrencies or other developing payment strategies. Although criminals constantly make efforts to be as invisible as possible, technology can fight human traffickers with coordinated efforts to shine light on their dark activities. The bright side is that through new and developing analysis tools, companies like Praescient have more opportunities in the trafficking process to uncover and identify both traffickers and victims.