Human Trafficking: FIs, Please Don’t Look the Other Way

Deb Geister, Fraud Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize

For decades we, as a society, have defined prostitution as simply a proactive choice made by men and women to make a living. Even though attitudes are changing, there is still a pervasive belief that this activity is not something that affects us day-to-day — and I fully disagree with that thinking. Throughout my career, I struggled to establish focus on the issues around prostitution and its impact on all of us, including those caught up in its inhuman web.  In the face of business leaders who often asked me, “Why is this our problem?,” or who comment “That is AML, not fraud’s problem,” I am here to firmly remind you that this situation is an “everyone” problem.

The fact is, the state of managed sex trafficking is our problem collectively, in the same way that quality education for our children, and protecting our elders, is our problem. We don’t want to face the fact that human slavery exists in 2019, nor do we want to admit that it is not a matter of choice to those who are ensnared within its operations.

Managed’ Sex Trafficking:

A Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

The reality is that human sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is highly lucrative for trans-national criminal organizations. This form of revenue generation is second only to the drug trades. Why? Because drug supplies need to be replenished. Human beings, on the other hand, can create constant streams of revenue and have a longer “shelf life” than drugs. Even more abhorrent is the fact that when a human being has diminished revenue-generating capabilities – they have become old, injured or sick — they are further commoditized and sold into the organ trafficking market, and yes, that is as horrific as you imagine. We have criminal enterprises that part out human beings like cars because their value is higher dead than alive. These are human beings who are being used to advance the cause of criminals and ideologies around the globe. That reality is horrifying

I am here to tell you from experience, that this does not happen only in large metropolitan areas or third-world countries. Human trafficking is pervasive and impacts communities of ALL sizes. Those of us in small rural areas think “it doesn’t happen here.” That is a very dangerous assumption. In fact, I live in a small community of approximately 20,000. There are two “erotic” massage parlors that are listed in my community on a website that promotes such businesses. And for those of you following the news, a certain modest-sized town in Florida made headlines recently when its trafficking and prostitution activities were uncovered.

Perhaps one of the harshest realities of human trafficking operations is that the sex trades often target our children. In fact, the prime targets for human traffickers are children, of which 80% are female, ages 8-15, the age which is considered “prime’. The average age of girls being trafficked is 12-14 years of age. Clearly, our children are at risk. Human trafficking has no socio-economic boundaries. Runaways are at a higher risk to be grabbed by a human trafficking operation, but there are many documented cases of children being snatched from their lives, from their homes and schools, and put into servitude by criminal organizations. As long as we continue to think it is someone else’s problem, we give the criminals the upper hand.

Financial Data Patterns Uncover Trafficking

As a financial crime professional, my teams and I have worked to track and identify the signs of human trafficking. The patterns present themselves very clearly in financial data. In fact, in a previous life as we started to define and identify the issues, we were able to identify human trafficking behavior with extraordinarily high probabilities.  Even though our transaction monitoring systems averaged 90+% false positives, the highly focused detection strategies we executed saw false positive rates on those human trafficking rules averaged false positive rates in the teens.

The Robert Kraft sting operation highlighted the fact that for human trafficking to continue to thrive, there needs to be more focus on the customers. If there were no demand, the traffickers would not have a $100 billion global market. Bottom line, we need to shine the light on this issue, and our best weapons are awareness and education. In 2019 we cannot accept human trafficking as a “reality” and continue to look the other way. If you have children or grandchildren, this affects all of us. The thinking that it is someone else’s problem and if we ignore it, it will go away is not acceptable

Even if you don’t have children, stopping human slavery needs to be a much bigger priority. There are groups out there doing amazing work in this regard. For these groups to be successful, identification of human trafficking is something we all need to support.  Understand the signs of an individual in distress, educate yourself on how to recognize the symptoms and report your concerns to the authorities immediately.

What Industry is Doing to Fight Trafficking

The airline industry and many major hotel chains have recently started training their personnel to identify and report suspected victims of human trafficking – it is time that financial institutions, which perhaps have more access to data and the technology to sift through it than most organizations, create their own special programs to join in this important fight.

One good example of an industry working to do the right thing is the gaming industry. A few of the major gaming organizations have made human trafficking a core value by placing effort into educating its employees on ways to spot the red flags for human trafficking. While it is often anti-money laundering technology that spots inconsistent behaviors in its casino customers, sometimes it’s the humans watching how their visitors are acting that thwart the traffickers. 

We can no longer look the other way or consider it someone else’s problem.  We can do more together than we can by looking the other way. Will you join the fight?

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