Career criminals react to their environment and circumstances in order to establish whether there are increased risks to their criminal business, supply chains, cash flow, or liberty. Simultaneously, they seek to identify any potential opportunities to further their criminal endeavors.
The fact is successful criminal businesses adapt in the same way as successful legitimate businesses. It is said a business that is not growing is in effect a business that is dying. Just as big businesses change, so do criminal enterprises. Change has seen some established business and brands all but disappear; technology changes consumer demands and expectations. Nokia did not move quickly enough to smartphones, Kodak was helpless against the evolution of the digital camera, and presently, synthetic drugs are changing the criminal marketplace.
Evolutions in financial services, such a cryptocurrency, also present opportunities to drug dealers. In his book “Fentanyl, Inc.,” Ben Westhoff posits the Internet has changed the entire drug dealing economy, which has seen the street corner dealer replaced by a discrete site within the “dark web.” Notwithstanding all of this, Europol asserts cash remains king in the drugs trade. There is logic to this, as addicts tend to live day-to-day existences within which they seek to secure enough cash to buy that day’s fix. They don’t have jobs, they are often desperate individuals who cannot be trusted, and at the retail end of the drug business, there is no credit system.
Presently, some fraudsters are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic with fake goods, fake charities, and other scams. Thus, while to many of us the virus presents danger, to some criminals it presents opportunities to exploit fear, perceived weaknesses, and obvious vulnerabilities.
Many law enforcement agencies, including Interpol, have issued warning notices to highlight the methods used by criminal groups to defraud individuals, companies, and governments. Last week, Italian police published warnings regarding the mafia acquiring or investing in cash-starved businesses. The scene is reminiscent of several played out in the Netflix money laundering drama “Ozark.” In the series, Jason Bateman stars as a financial planner who becomes captive to a drug cartel and needs to launder millions of dollars in cash to effectively keep his family alive. To do this, he purchases businesses in the Ozark region and inflates turnover as well as expenditure to make the business accounts absorb the millions of narco-dollars.
The situation in Italy will be replayed in many other countries, and desperate businesspeople may be easy pickings to cash-rich organized crime groups seeking new outlets and new opportunities to launder their money. Our role will be to maintain up-to-date customer information and to identify the businesses that survive this pandemic against those that die and ask, in the absence of government support, just how did they survive. In the event the business model changes and begins to deposit far more cash, we may need to establish whether new owners or investors are responsible for depositing that cash, as opposed to the customers of the business.