ICQ Log - Financial Crime:

International Fraud Prevention Conference Review


Last Updated: 01 June 2021

The theme of this year’s International Fraud Prevention Conference was the increasing nexus between fraud, cyber-crime and money laundering and how all three were harder to distinguish from each other in real life events. In this article Stephen Rea, Publisher of AML Intelligence.com gives a summary and his highlights of the conference which was streamed from Dublin in March of this year to over 1,200 global delegates.

More than 1,200 global delegates attended the International Fraud Prevention Conference streamed from central Dublin on March 22 last. The theme of this year’s conference was the increasing nexus between fraud, cyber crime and money laundering and how all three were harder to distinguish from each other in real life events.


With a heavy emphasis on the business requirement for resilient cybersecurity defences and the growing threats posed by state actors and organised crime, the theme had a particular resonance coming as it did just weeks ahead of the ransomware attack which crippled the HSE’s IT system.


The conference was officially opened by Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD. Referring to the increase in financial crime and cyber events during the pandemic, Mr Varadkar said: “I think the fact that there are more than 1,000 international registered delegates shows the importance of the subject matters being discussed here today. And in the year that electronic payments exceeded cash payments for the first time, perhaps more important than ever.”


One of the highlights of the day was the address of Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus who warned of the “industrialisation of fraud”, facilitated by increased automation and the “cyber sphere”.


The DPP detailed how an increasing number of money laundering and financial crime files were now being prosecuted, with “large numbers of ‘money mules’ and their ‘herders’” commonly seen in cyber fraud cases.


Director Loftus said her office had “successfully prosecuted a number of money laundering cases arising from online cyber fraud” in recent years but number of cases that have come across her desk have risen exponentially.


Since she took office in 2011 the number of money laundering charges brought by the State has soared from just three to more than 200 in 2020. “The stand out trend in financial crime in recent years is the significant increase in money laundering prosecutions,” she noted.


 Indeed this “increase has been particularly marked in the last two years with 2020 (221 files) reflecting more than a 50% increase on the 2019 figure of 103 files”, and described the last ten years, and particularly the last five as a “money laundering journey for investigators, prosecutors and the Courts”.


The DPP noted that “increasingly the convergence of cybersecurity, fraud per se and financial/economic crime is gathering pace at such a rate that it is now very difficult to say where one discipline begins and the other ends.”


Another leading voice in the field is Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting Federica Taccogna who agreed that data sharing was a key way forward, went as far as claiming that nothing in the most recent European GDPR legislation that explicitly “prevented” data sharing or action sharing.


She described any reasoning that assumes GDPR is a roadblock to datasharing as an “excuse,” – formulated by personnel who viewed financial losses to financial crime as the lesser evil compared to fines for doing nothing.


Former director of EUROPOL Sir Rob Wainwright warned that the outstandingly low recovery rate of illegal profits worldwide remains consistent, despite efforts across the board to raise it.

Sir Rob – who led the EU’s policing agency for nine years from 2009 to 2018 – said that it was a consistent finding that around 1% of criminal profits are ever seized back by authorities.


This, he said, was despite numerous measures, laws, and new networks put in place to make it higher. “That figure of seizing 1% or less is a figure that keeps coming back in successive studies or research,” he said. “So we have a big problem, a very big problem.”


His outlook on its most urgent challenges had boiled down to two main problems. The first was while criminals may have often engaged in turf wars with each other in the past, this was no longer the case. Gangland style infighting had been replaced by more modern, sophisticated collaborations. Technology, he warned, was a key enabler that had allowed this.


The second problem, he said, lay in global AML systems and the fact that they are so frequently bested by criminal systems despite efforts to improve them.


 “Though there have been refinements and improvements, they have largely failed to keep real pace,” he told the conference, noting that many were the victims of “flawed design concepts”.


 He also criticised the overreliance on compliance as a measurement tactic, rather than analysing the “real effects” of AML activities.


 When it came to Wainwright’s suggestions for boosting that 1% figure, his answer was a steered, precise and information-driven approach to catching criminals. “Rather than starting with the idea that we have a 100 haystacks and there are some needles somewhere. We should gather intelligence as much as possible to learn, ‘it’s that haystack over there.’”


A “laser-targeted” method would be far better than a “blunt, catch-all,” method, he stressed. And it involved information sharing both between financial institutions and the authorities.


The much vaunted Dutch initiative, Transaction Monitoring Netherlands (TMNL) was a great example, he said. TMNL is a platform that allows data to be shared between institutions, but still maintains data privacy.


Its tech-based processes hide specific personal details from all involved unless directly relevant, and they were a welcome tool, enabling stakeholders to see what he described as “the horizontal nature of the threat.”


 “Rob is right,” European Banking Federation Executive Committee Member and CEO of BPFI Brian Hayes remarked. “It’s not just about compliance, it’s about dealing with the issue in a clever way.”


Hayes himself described the current inability to share information, bankto- bank, as the industry’s biggest challenge and welcomed new initiatives that bring balance to the tug-of-war between data sharing and data privacy.


On the Cybersecurity side the conference also heard from European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas; US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers; and INTERPOL Head of Police Services Stephen Kavanagh.

Lawyer Photo


Stephen Rae

Publisher, AML Intelligence | Principal, KOBN European Leaders | Head of Europe, Callaway Climate Insights | Non-Exec Director | Former Group Editor-in-Chief, INM


ICQ Summer Edition 2021

This article was taken from the ACOI's ICQ Summer Edition 2021