EU to Act on Visa-For-Sale Schemes After Warnings of Money Laundering Risks


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Wednesday it will provide guidance to EU states on how to manage national schemes to sell passports and residency permits to wealthy foreign citizens, as campaigners and lawmakers warned of money laundering risks.

Government schemes to trade citizenship or residence rights for large investment are currently applied in 13 EU countries: Austria, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Britain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and France. Hungary has terminated its program.

“If you have a lot of money that you acquired through dubious means, securing a new place to call home far away from the place you stole from isn’t just appealing, it’s sensible,” Naomi Hirst of rights group Global Witness said.

She said checks on individuals that bought EU citizenship or residency permits were not satisfactory and exposed countries to corruption and money laundering risks.

The joint report by Global Witness and Transparency International urged the European Union to set standards for managing the schemes and to extend anti-money laundering rules, applied so far to banks or gaming firms, to all those involved in the visa-for-sale industry.

The European Commission will publish a report on schemes in EU countries by the end of the year, commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Wednesday. He said the report would offer guidance to member states on managing the programs, “including on necessary background checks for applicants”.

Acquiring these documents costs on average 900,000 euros, but Cyprus’ passport could cost up to 2 millions, the report said.

Cyprus has raised 4.8 billion euros ($5.51 billion) from its scheme, while Portugal could earn nearly a billion euros a year, according to figures cited in the report, called “European Getaway – Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas”.

EU states generated around 25 billion euros in foreign direct investment in a decade from selling at least 6,000 passports and nearly 100,000 residency permits, the report said using what it called conservative estimates.

“Money must not be the criterion for citizens’ and residents’ rights in the EU,” said EU lawmaker Sven Giegold, who sits on the assembly’s special committee on financial crimes.

“The trade in passports and visas by EU states must be stopped as soon as possible. These programs are a gateway to criminal money,” he added, echoing the view of other EU lawmakers.

The report said in Malta, which has raised 718 million euros from its scheme, applicants who have criminal records or are under investigation could still be considered eligible “in special circumstances”.

“Poorly managed schemes allow corrupt individuals to work and travel unhindered throughout the EU and undermine our collective security,” Laure Brillaud, anti-money laundering expert at Transparency International, said.

All the countries who run these schemes, except Britain, Cyprus, Ireland and Bulgaria, are part of the Schengen free-movement area which comprises 26 European states.

($1 = 0.8708 euros)

Kent police captain charged with operating gambling house, money laundering

KENT — Lorain County authorities have charged a Kent police captain and his wife with money laundering and racketeering in a grand jury indictment related to their interest in alleged illegal gambling at so-called “internet cafes.”

James W. “Jayme” Cole, 52, and his wife Audrey Cole, 45, both of Stow, were indicted Wednesday by a Lorain County grand jury on three counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity — commonly called racketeering — which are all first-degree felonies; seven counts of money laundering, all third-degree felonies; four counts of illegal casino gaming, all fifth-degree felonies; and four counts of operating a gambling house, all first-degree misdemeanors.

Cole has been a Kent police officer since July 1988, according to his personnel file, released by the city and reviewed Thursday by the Record-Courier following a public records request.

According to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, a Lorain County grand jury was convened following an investigation and a series of raids Aug. 15 in multiple Northeastern Ohio counties.

“These indictments are the result of an ongoing investigation involving numerous law enforcement agencies including the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and a number of other area police agencies,” Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said.

One of the raids was on Cole’s home in Stow. Agents of the Portage County Drug Task Force served a search warrant there Aug. 15 on behalf of Lorain County authorities and seized records and cash, according to a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified due to the ongoing investigation.

Cole was placed on paid administrative leave the following day after the Kent Police Department was made aware of the investigation, Kent police spokesman Lt. Mike Lewis said. That changed to unpaid leave on Wednesday when Cole was arrested.

Lewis and Police Chief Michelle Lee said they have no reason to believe Cole committed any crimes in Kent or Portage County.

Cole became a Kent police officer after attending the Hiram Police Department Basic Police Academy in late 1987. He briefly worked as a dispatcher for both Hiram and Chagrin Falls police before Kent police hired him in July 1988.

He served on road patrol, earning Officer of the Year in 1994 along with a Meritorious Service Award, and was the department’s MADD Officer of the Year every year from 1990-94.

Cole was promoted to sergeant in July 1998 and to lieutenant in June 2006, serving both as a patrol supervisor and later as the department’s spokesman. He was promoted to captain in 2011.

In recent years, howeverm Lee’s performance reviews of her second-in-command cited Cole for “unreliability,” including missing several overtime shifts in 2015-16 and failing to show up for a shift on Halloween 2016 — one of the busiest nights of the year for Kent police.

Only one disciplinary item was included in Cole’s personnel file: An internal departmental investigation in 2012 resulted in a two-week suspension without pay, restitution to the department and the loss of his take-home vehicle after Lee discovered the captain was using it for personal matters.

Dog Trainer Accused of Tax Fraud, Money Laundering

By Guillermo Contreras

Federal agents have arrested a principal operator of a canine-training operation after he was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury on charges related to fraud and money laundering.

Bradley Croft, 46, who has said he was a founder of Universal K9, was arrested moments ago the San Antonio Express-News confirmed. A reporter observed as a federal grand jury returned several indictments by 3 p.m. that included one against Croft.

Agents with the FBI, and the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division raided Universal K9 at 15329 Tradesman, near Loop 1604, which is billed as a nonprofit, on Aug. 8. Of 31 dogs found on the site, 26 were taken into custody by the city’s Animal Care Services.

Councilman Manny Pelaez, who represents the district that includes the site of Universal K9, said in an online post on Aug. 8 that “the IRS and the FBI just shut down an operation that was preying on veterans and not doing right by dogs. That’s a good thing worthy of mention and support.”

San Antonio Police Department officers assisted. The Express-News confirmed that the Department of Veterans Affairs also was involved in the investigation.

“Universal K9 specifically outreaches to veterans and offers a two-week K9 Handlers course or a ten-week trainers course in which any veteran may utilize his or her GI Bill to cover 100% of course costs, including the canine,” Universal K9 said in a lawsuit it filed recently against former students.

It costs $12,500 for a 10-month course, according to exhibits included in the lawsuit.

Universal K9 is also listed as a nonprofit foundation that donates dogs to police departments nationwide and has been featured on local and national media, including CBS News and the Express-News.

Croft is expected to make his initial court appearance on Thursday.

Money Laundering Links Romance Scams To Corporate Cyberattacks

By JohnWilson

On the long list of cybersecurity threats facing corporate leaders, romance scams would at first glance hardly seem to crack the top 10. What could cons of lonely middle-aged singles have to do with the business email compromise (BEC) attacks increasingly targeting American corporations? Plenty, it turns out. Recent Justice Department enforcement actions and published research reports have illuminated the connection: Romance scam victims are turned into money mules — conduits for funds stolen from corporations and other victims.

Scamming people online is relatively easy. The harder part is getting money out of the U.S. and back to Nigeria, where many of the scammers are based. A corporate treasurer is likely to hesitate before wiring tens of thousands of dollars to an unknown person or company in Nigeria, even if asked to do so by the company’s CEO. A transfer request like this is also more likely to raise eyebrows at the company’s bank, but a “consulting company” with a U.S. bank account is more likely to slip through unquestioned. The romance scam victim, who has an established history of transferring money to Nigeria, is the

“consulting company” receiving the funds and transferring them onward. Why would these victims agree to do this? In many cases, they remain under the scammer’s spell and are willing to do whatever they are asked to do. In other cases, they have become financially desperate or they are being blackmailed to force their ongoing cooperation.

Romance scammers frequently target women who are 40 or older. They will often pose as an American military man living overseas, using photos grabbed from Facebook or other sites. After a period of relationship building, the male partner will start asking for money. He may say he needs surgery, but the military will cover only 80% and he asks to borrow the remaining 20%. Or perhaps he has been arrested in a dangerous part of the world and needs money to buy his freedom.

Caution and prudence are no match for hope and loneliness. It’s surprising how often this works — how willing people are to ignore the warning signs and repeated disappointments. Time after time the scammer finds an excuse about why he can’t come to visit his romantic victim, yet he always finds a way to ask for more money. In one especially sad case we tracked, a divorced woman with two children sent more than half a million dollars to a Nigerian scam artist, losing her home and forcing her to move her children out of their school.

There’s a long history of Nigeria-based scams. These criminals have had little fear of being brought to justice, bragging about their ill-gotten gains in their Facebook posts. The long arm of the law is finally reaching them. The U.S. Justice Department and other U.S. agencies are increasingly going after Africa-based scammers, including in two recently announced enforcement actions, and have succeeded in getting accused criminals extradited to the United States for prosecution.

On June 11, the Justice Department and a group of other U.S. federal agencies announced the arrest of 74 individuals involved in scamming in an enforcement action it called Operation Wire Wire. Among them, 23 individuals were charged with money laundering of at least $10 million from BEC scams, which they also call “cyber-enabled financial fraud.” Of the 23, 8 people were charged with laundering $5 million stolen from a Seattle corporation, a law firm and several title companies.

“The fraudsters enlist and manipulate the money mules through romance scams or ‘work-at-home’ scams,” the Justice Department said.

The same Nigerian scammers (both individuals and groups) who have long run romance scams are now unleashing BEC attacks against corporations. Agari recently analyzed the contents of 78 criminal email accounts captured from 10 organized crime groups and dating as far back as 2009. It found after focusing for years on simple romance and rental scams, most of the groups began conducting BEC attacks between 2016 and 2018. BEC has become the most popular attack vector (24% of all attacks over the life of the accounts), a surprising finding given that most of these groups did not begin BEC attacks until 2016 or later. Most of the groups also engage in apartment rental scams, which aren’t as lucrative as BEC or romance scams but are much easier to pull off and replicate.

“The same criminal organizations that perpetrate BEC also exploit individual victims, often real estate purchasers, the elderly and others, by convincing them to make wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by the criminals,” the Justice Department said in its June 11 announcement. In a separate set of eight arrests announced on June 25, dubbed Operation Keyboard Warrior, a group of Africa-based defendants were charged with perpetrating “romance scams, fraudulent-check scams, gold-buying scams, advance-fee scams and credit card scams,” and sending the proceeds of those scams from the U.S. to Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa “through a complex network of both complicit and unwitting individuals that had been recruited through the various internet scams.”

In one of the accompanying indictments, the defendants were charged with carrying out “fictitious online romance relationships … in order to convince them to carry out” acts including “receiving and shipping merchandise, depositing and forwarding counterfeit checks and transferring the proceeds of the conspiracy via wire, U.S. Mail, ocean freight and express package delivery services.”

Amid the crackdown, however, losses are mushrooming. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in July reported a 136% increase in identified global exposed losses between December 2016 and May 2018.

It’s a tough problem. The victims I’ve spoken with have a gambler’s mentality. Deep down they know it’s a scam, but if they cut off the communication they know they’ll never see the money the scammer supposedly borrowed from them. Better to keep playing, hoping their luck will change. Sadly, the odds they’ll ever see a dime are zero. They’d be better off in Vegas, where winning is at least a possibility. Emotionally and financially broken, they are easily manipulated into aiding the scammer by helping to launder the proceeds of BEC scams.

They froze computers, then demanded ransom. A former FIU student is going to prison

A former FIU graduate student received an 18-month federal prison sentence this week for helping computer extortionists launder more than $93,000.

From October 2012 to Marc 27, 2013, while at FIU, Raymond Uadiale’s version of unofficial work-study involved moving extorted money for those who wielded a type of ransomware called “Reveton.” Uadiale, now 41, went to work for Microsoft as a network engineer after the scheme ended.

That job ended in March, the same month Uadiale was indicted on money laundering charges.

As explained in Uadiale’s admission of facts, “When Reveton infected a victim’s computer, it would display a splash screen that included the logo of a law enforcement organization and a message falsely informing the victim that the law enforcement organization had found illegal material on the infected computer. The Reveton ransomware splash screen would direct the victim to pay a “fine” in order to regain access to the computer and its data.”

Scam Smashing Tip No. 1: No law enforcement agency legally does business by demanding cash on the spot. And if you have illegal material on your computer worth law enforcement’s time, your punishment will come from a court and likely will be stiffer than a fine.)

To pay the “fine,” the person would be told to buy a GreenDot MoneyPak, which works something like a Starbucks card and is available at many stores. Then, they would put the MoneyPak account number into a form on the ransomeware splash screen. This sent the account number to the person controlling the ransomware from the United Kingdom, called in Uadiale’s admission “Co-conspirator 1.”

Uadiale bought prepaid debit cards and sent those account numbers across the Atlantic to Co-conspirator 1. GreenDot’s online transfer system allowed Co-conspirator 1 to move the extortion money from the MoneyPaks to the debit cards. Or, Co-conspirator 1 would send the MoneyPak account numbers to Uadiale and he would do the transferring of funds.

With the money on the debit cards held by Uadiale, he then hit ATMs or other places around South Florida he could use for withdrawing money off the cards.

“Using an account with the digital currency platform Liberty Reserve, the defendant would transfer the approximately 70 percent of the funds loaded onto the debit cards back to Co-conspirator 1,” Uadiale’s admission of facts states. “The defendant and Co-conspirator 1 agreed that the defendant would send Co-conspirator back approximately 70 percent of the funds loaded onto the defendant’s debit cards, while the defendant would keep the remaining amount for the defendant’s payment and to cover transaction fees.”

At those black market transaction rates, Uadiale made just over $40,000 in those months.

Maple Valley man sentenced to prison for money laundering

A former Microsoft employee was sentenced today to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with the spread of a particular type of ransomware commonly referred to as Reveton.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, made the announcement.

Raymond Odigie Uadiale, 41, of Maple Valley, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge William P. Dimitrouleas for the Southern District of Florida following his June 4 guilty plea.

The indictment charged Uadiale with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of substantive money laundering. As part of the plea agreement, the government dismissed the substantive count. In addition to his prison sentence, Uadiale was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.

According to the factual proffer filed in connection with the plea agreement, Uadiale helped to “cash out” the payments of victims whose computers were infected with Reveton, a type of ransomware that displayed a splash screen on the victim’s computer with the logo of a law enforcement organization.

The splash screen would include a message falsely telling the victim that the law enforcement organization had found illegal material on the infected computer and required the payment of a “fine” to regain access to the computer and its data. The ransomware directed the victim to purchase a GreenDot MoneyPak and enter the account number into a form on the splash screen. Using prepaid debit cards, Uadiale transformed the MoneyPak funds into cash, kept a portion for himself, and sent a portion back to Reveton’s distributor, who resided in the United Kingdom.

“By cashing out and then laundering victim payments, Raymond Uadiale played an essential role in an international criminal operation that victimized unsuspecting Americans by infecting their computers with malicious ransomware,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “This conviction and sentence is another demonstration of the Department of Justice’s commitment to prosecuting cybercriminals and shutting down the networks they use to launder their criminal proceeds. We are grateful for the outstanding collaboration of our U.S. and international law enforcement partners in this successful investigation.”

According to court documents, Uadiale used the digital currency platform Liberty Reserve to transfer approximately 70 percent of the ransomware proceeds back to the ransomware distributor.

Between Oct. 2012 and March 27, 2013, while he was a graduate student at Florida International University, Uadiale sent approximately $93,640 in Liberty Reserve dollars to his co-conspirator as part of their scheme. Public records show that Uadiale was hired by Microsoft as a network engineer after the conspiracy charged in the indictment ended.

“This was a sophisticated scheme to conceal the proceeds of a particularly insidious type of ransomware,” said U.S. Attorney Greenberg. “By claiming to originate from law enforcement agencies, Reveton not only victimized computer users, it also exploited the agencies in whose names the ransomware claimed to be acting. Today’s sentence demonstrates that those who seek to profit from the spread of such malicious software face serious consequences.”

The case was investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared M. Strauss of the Southern District of Florida and Senior Counsel W. Joss Nichols of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Virginia and the Western District of Washington.

‘Game Over’: Wall Street Analyst Says Bitcoin Must Not Breech Year-To-Date Support

By: William Suberg

Renaissance Macro Research’s head of technical research Jeff deGraaf concluded it may be “game over” for Bitcoin (BTC) in a new analysis, CNBC reports August 9.

In a note to clients, deGraaf, who has received multiple accolades for his trading insights in the past twenty years, claimed Bitcoin’s price movements suggest the largest cryptocurrency is “permanently impaired.”

CNBC quotes deGraaf as writing that Bitcoin’s “parabolic moves are notoriously dangerous for short-sellers,” adding that a top normally develops with the appearance of a “descending triangle over months, with reduced volatility and little [fanfare],”

“Once the top is complete on the support violation, the security in question can often be considered permanently impaired or even ‘game‐over’. We are of course referencing Bitcoin as exhibit ‘A’ in today’s market.”

Such a situation would become a genuine consideration if BTC/USD broke year-to-date support levels, deGraaf added.

Bitcoin prices have come full circle over the past three weeks to trade around $6,359 by press time, after previously rising as high as $8,450 in late July.

This time last year, Bitcoin traded at around half that figure — $3,400 — as markets began their ascent that brought Bitcoin’s price to around $20,000 in December 2017.


Meanwhile, misgivings from traditional finance sources have continued in recent months, despite increased Wall Street interest and pledges to build out Bitcoin-related infrastructure.

Last week, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon broke silence once more to call the cryptocurrency a “scam” after previously saying he “was not going to talk about” it.

Napoles, 5 others indicted for int’l money laundering, conspiracy, bribery

MANILA – A US federal grand jury has indicted alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles and 5 others for conspiring to funnel in and out of the US some $20 million in Philippine public funds obtained through a multi-year bribery and fraud scheme.

The US Department of Justice said in a statement released Tuesday that among those indicted for conspiracy to commit domestic and international money laundering were:

Janet Lim Napoles, 54
Jo Christine Napoles,34
James Christopher,33
Jeane Catherine,28
Reynald Luy Lim, 52;
Ana Marie Lim, 47.

Three defendants, working with some 20 Filipino officials, funneled into the Napoles matriarch’s non-governmental organizations money from government funds, including lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund, said the US justice department.

Napoles’ NGOs were supposed to use the money for development projects, but did not do so and instead diverted the funds to “kickbacks for the legislators and other government officials, and for the personal use of the Napoles family,” the agency said.

Some $20 million of the funds, it said, were diverted to money remitters in the Philippines and then wired to Southern California bank accounts, where the money was used to purchase real estate, shares in 2 businesses, 2 Porsche Boxsters, and finance the living expenses of 3 family members in the US, Jeane Napoles and the Lims.

An audit discovered the fraud in September 2012. The fraud and the US proceeds were exposed in the Filipino press in July of the following year, the US justice department said.

Napoles was arrested in August 2013 and her family’s bank accounts were frozen in the Philippines.

“Napoles and her family then attempted to quietly liquidate the assets in the US, secretly repatriate most of the resulting funds back to the Philippines and to other accounts in the US and United Kingdom, and disburse some of the funds to Jeane Napoles, who used the money to finance her lifestyle and open a fashion business,” said the agency.

“Even after Jannet Napoles made a highly publicized statement admitting that she had bribed Philippine legislators in connection with these ‘ghost projects,’ the defendants attempted to convert the proceeds of this crime to their own use,” said US Attorney Nicola Hanna in the same statement.

“The efforts of the Philippine and American investigators demonstrates that there are consequences to abusing the public trust and we hope to deter such conduct in the future. To do this, we will work with our Philippine counterparts to secure the extradition of the defendants to the United States,” she added.

About approximately $12.5 million in the Napoles’ Southern California real estate has been seized by the US Attorney’s Office and is subject to a pending civil forfeiture case.

If the court orders the assets forfeited, the US will work with Philippine officials in an attempt to return the stolen funds back to the Philippine government, the US justice department said.

US authorities, it said, were coordinating with Manila’s justice department, Office of the Ombudsman, Anti-Money Laundering Council, and the Commission on Audit.

Napoles remains behind bars for her plunder and graft cases before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the pork barrel scam.

The government in February provisionally accepted Napoles as a state witness. She was removed from the WPP by the new justice secretary last May.

Philly DA Krasner’s new unit to prosecute elder financial abusers

By Erin Arvedlund

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is forming a new unit in his office focusing on financial elder exploitation cases, noting the problem strikes close to home: His own father-in-law was targeted by a “grandparent scam.”

“The guy called and said my son, Nate, his grandson, was in jail and needed $2,500. My father-in-law, a career military guy, almost fell for it, but my mother-in-law fortunately intervened,” Krasner told a crowd Friday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia convened for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The confab included many members of the Philadelphia Financial Exploitation Prevention Task Force, headed by Joe Snyder, which hosted the event.

Krasner and Noel Ann DeSantis, assistant district attorney, are forming a crime victims’ advocacy council and special prosecutors’ unit to go after predators of the elderly. Financial exploitation can take the form of sweepstakes scams, phony IRS agents, grandparent and romance scams, and guardian misconduct. One estimate puts the damage at over $130 billion per year, said Linda Mill, a certified fraud examiner with Ally Bank.

A typical abuser is “a soccer mom, not who you would think. But these older women are typically the main caregivers in the family,” Mill said.

“Most are women aged 30 to 59 and are family members with a POA,” or power of attorney for their elderly relative or neighbor. Rita Wynegar of York County, Pa., pleaded guilty to theft in 2012 after stealing $240,000 from her great-aunt Lidia Coito between 2007 and 2010 through her power of attorney. The thefts came to light when the elderly woman found herself facing eviction from a personal-care home for nonpayment. Her niece had drained her accounts and installed a swimming pool in her backyard.

DeSantis recently prosecuted a 60-year-old woman, a decades-long con artist, who forced an 87-year-old South Philadelphia woman into a bank to withdraw $600 — her entire savings account. An alert teller notified security, but the victim didn’t press charges until months later at Christmastime, “when she finally told her sister she couldn’t buy gifts.”

“Always call the police and file a report,” DeSantis said, no matter how small the amount of the theft. “That creates a case number for us which is sent to SeniorLAW Center and CARIE,” the Center for Advocacy for Rights and Interests of the Elderly in Center City. (DeSantis was the prosecutor on the Meek Mill case).

Tellers and bank managers often act as front-line advocates for seniors: one employee in DNB First’s wire department questioned a customer asking to wire money to a stranger.

“I asked her why she was sending money to someone she didn’t know, and she was cagey. I told her that it was probably a scam. We turned down the wire,” she told the audience of bankers, financial professionals, and attorneys. Another bank customer, with a Ph.D., was asking to send money to “pay for winning a contest,” said Linda Johnson, compliance officer and fraud investigator at Ardent Credit Union.

“She was very smart, but she was lonely,” Johnson said.

Bankers often aren’t believed by customers who are being targeted by a scammer — so it’s helpful to point clients to articles such as “Are You Real?” by AARP, a survey that explains common impostor frauds against seniors.

“Sometimes I point people to YouTube videos of common scam recordings, and often that triggers them into realizing it’s them who are the target,” said Dana Goldberg, head of the Senior Law Center. “I had one woman in my office for three hours until she had her ‘a-ha’ moment, because no one wants to admit being a victim.”

How Uber ghost rides are linked to online money laundering

By Ron Teicher

Online service marketplaces are relatively new, and there are few ways for their operators to regularly monitor the entirety of services and transactions. Unfortunately, this creates an open environment for electronic money laundering, known as ‘transaction laundering,’ to occur.

Last November, we all discovered that no one is immune to cyber crime, when The Daily Beast published an article showing that Airbnb had been exposed to online payment system exploitation. The scam is simple: fraudsters use stolen credit cards to launder dirty money through complicit Airbnb hosts they meet in underground, online Russian forums.

Once the Airbnb booking transaction is processed, no one actually stays at the swanky (or not so swanky), advertised accommodation. Instead, the two parties split the payment and create fake end-of-stay reviews to close the transaction loop.

Because Airbnb spans thousands of locations over numerous governing jurisdictions, cyber criminals can easily capitalize on it and hide behind the huge operational scope. The current tools and processes in place to detect illegal or illicit activity are not enough to monitor the sheer volume of transactions that occur.

Uber now faces exploitations similar to Airbnb, but the transaction laundering process becomes a bit more complicated, albeit conceptually parallel: users of a laundering service pay for “ghost rides” — rides that they never took.

How the Uber scam works

Here’s how it works: the client employs a money laundering service to seek out and hire complicit Uber drivers looking to make an extra buck, who then accept ride requests from money laundering clients at pre-established rates.

Laundering large amounts of money is also pretty simple: multiple drivers are involved in the scheme, easily increasing the volume.

Then, after Uber takes its standard cut from the “ghost rides,” the complicit drivers distribute their earnings to the operator of the laundering scheme. The operator takes a cut, and passes along the remaining, clean money to the client.

Transaction laundering through Uber simply wouldn’t work without drivers willing to be part of the scam to earn their piece of the pie.

These “ghost ride” driving positions are viewed as highly valuable — providing additional revenue streams at minimal risk and involving little to no work. In fact, the positions are increasingly being advertised on online forums and have links with step-by-step guides to effectively execute the scam.

Why specifically Airbnb and Uber?

Money laundering through online platforms is highly popular among criminals because there’s no overhead to the operation, and no need to create a false business or entity, or to deal with real or fake goods.

Not to mention, these popular platforms are global-reaching and immense, allowing scammers to seamlessly cross borders with no regulatory eye keeping watch.

With the revolution of online marketplaces, comes additional risk: Transaction laundering has become rampant among many of the marketplaces we regularly visit.  While the scam is a bit different than that which occurred with Airbnb and Uber, the idea is very similar.  An unknown business uses the payment credentials of a legitimate merchant to process credit card payments for products and services, typically of illicit or illegal nature.

The core of ecommerce is the buying and selling of products and services through the internet. The process has become easy, involving just a few clicks and some data entry, and the transaction is nearly instant. Today, setting up an illegal operation for transaction laundering is just as easy as the ecommerce process, seeing that it can be done in a matter of minutes by anybody with a bit of online savvy and the motivation to commit fraud.

The scary reality is that this cyber crime becomes nearly undetectable to the major players who process millions of payments a day. And along the payment processing pipeline, all players — marketplace, credit card companies, and issuing banks — are responsible for the credibility of the transaction, knowingly or unknowingly.

What’s even scarier is that it’s estimated that transaction laundering for online sales of products and services is more than $200 billion a year in the US alone. With the high volume of transactions through online marketplaces and now the online service marketplaces, like Uber and Airbnb, that number will surely increase.