Worst of Times?

By any measure, this has been a year that has tested us all, as several articles in this December 2020-February 2021 issue of ACAMS Today  make clear.

More than 1.5 million people worldwide have died because of COVID-19, a death toll that continues to rise. Compounding these tragic losses, as anti-financial crime (AFC) professionals know, has been a surge in pandemic-related crime. Public funds intended to aid unemployed individuals and broken businesses have been stolen, and fake cures, sham charities and phishing scams have been used by cyber and other sorts of criminals to impoverish people already in despair.

In addition to the deaths and jump in online crime and various scams, another fallout of COVID-19 has been malevolent conspiracy theories, right down to the politicization of wearing masks and social distancing practices despite all scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of both.

Yet the pandemic has also provided ample proof that, as we are so often reminded in movies and literature, as badly as we human beings can behave toward one another, we are also capable of rising to amazing acts of selflessness and collective achievement. In contrast to the actions of those seeking to profit at others’ expense during a global crisis, medical professionals, at grave personal risk, are caring for the infected; police, firefighters, transit workers and others continue to provide the services we all depend on for our own safety and wellbeing; and tens of thousands of our neighbors, including those who produce and deliver our food and lifesaving drugs, are practicing a quiet heroism just by going to work each day.

Of course, some have served by staying home, including many AFC professionals. But even from home, AFC professionals have continued to monitor global transactions to identify funds that are likely proceeds of crime. While criminals reinvent old crimes online, anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing (AML/CTF) departments are innovating and finding new ways to counter them.

Project Shadow, which launched this month, brings together the financial sector, a child welfare charity, Canada’s financial intelligence unit and law enforcement to fight the sexual exploitation of children. The fifth Canadian public-private partnership of its kind since 2017, Project Shadow is co-led by Scotiabank and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and supported by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

This most recent initiative is detailed in the article “Project Shadow: AML Investigations Into Online Child Exploitation.” The piece, by Joseph Mari of Scotiabank, documents the rise of reports of child exploitation to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by more than 60% over the prior year to 103,073 in 2019 and details the kinds of financial transactions and behaviors that can identify exploiters of children.

My copy of The New York Times this morning promised that a “Long, Dark Winter Looms” including death, online crime and angry mobs before enough people in the world can be vaccinated. The development of two and possibly more effective vaccines, however, represents an incredible human achievement that counters so much evil.

While contemplating a dark winter, I am reminded of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize remarks: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

There is light ahead because we will provide it.

Kieran Beer, CAMS

Chief Analyst, Director of Editorial Content

Follow me on Twitter: @KieranBeer

“Financial Crime Matters with Kieran Beer”

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