Saturday, July 20, 2024

Tech-oriented approach, cross-border collab can reveal crimes that go unnoticed

In late March this year, the Philippines Police busted a scam center located 100km north of Manila and rescued hundreds of people who were forced to pose as lovers online.

The center, which masqueraded as a gambling firm, had been running illegal operations, ranging from money laundering and crypto fraud to the so-called love scams.

The love-scams, also known as “pig butchering” scams, named after the farming practice of fattening pigs before slaughtering them, had trapped around 340 Filipinos, 202 Chinese and 73 other foreign nationals.

The scammers’ modus operandi was simple and time-tested: they adopted fake identities online to gain their victim’s confidence. Then, they exploited the illusion of romance to manipulate the victims. This often happened by persuading them to invest in fake schemes or businesses.

The raid was made possible only by the virtue of a victim’s daring escape. In late February, a Vietnamese national fled the center and tipped off the authorities about the illegal operations. He was lured into the Philippines in early January with the offer of a chef’s job, but later realised that he had, like others, fallen prey to human traffickers.

In May last year, the Philippine authorities rescued over 1,000 people held captive and forced to run online scams in a city close to Manila. This has been the story across South East Asia.

Winston Casio, spokesman for the presidential commission against organised crime, said after the raid: “Those trapped in the centre were forced to send “sweet nothings” to their victims, peppering them with questions about their day and what they were eating. Those running the centre had purposefully trapped “good-looking men and women to lure victims”.

Police, prosecutors and crime analytics companies are forging new ways to collaborate to thwart and pursue the sprawling criminal networks behind the online scam centers that have taken root in the region.

Benedikt Hofmann, deputy representative of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific (UNODC), points out: “Cooperation has picked up over the past years, resulting in some of the raids we have seen. There is increased information-sharing as countries cooperate across jurisdictions, for example prosecutors working together.”

But experts argue that progress is slow, hampered by the complexity of the problem, and that integration of technology in the policing ecosystem is key.

They say crime analytics has the potential to enable police to achieve a truly preventative approach. This involves getting new understandings from data and identifying and recognizing suspicious behaviour and activities online.

Law enforcement agencies must equip their personnel with tools that can be used in the traditional lab setting and on the scene for rapid collection of evidence and immediate intervention of an offender’s activities.

As per sources, the Wynyard Group, whose Advanced Crime Analytics tool (ACA) has helped several law enforcement agencies tackle a multitude of crimes, especially in South East Asia and countries like New Zealand and England, is in touch with law enforcement agencies in the region to upgrade their crime tackling tool.

Wynyard ACA generally enables investigators and crime intelligence units to sort through data and discover people, entities, locations and relationships of interest.

The ACA software processes and analyses huge amounts of information held on devices, such as mobile phones, laptops and PCs, which are often seized at the border, along with additional information, such as travel or financial records to help investigators detect suspicious activities and surface unusual relationships.

The software can integrate data from multiple sources, including criminal watch lists, bank and financial transactions, travel and transaction records, and cargo and manifest records to build an even more comprehensive picture.

Investigators are able to reveal events and relationships that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, allowing them to find, monitor, track, assess and disrupt trafficking networks.

Italy-based KeyCrime that serves globally, through artificial intelligence algorithms, analyzes serial crimes in multiple contexts and locations, reducing costs for the judicial authority and increasing collective security.

Hexagon, operating in over 50 countries, provides police, fire, emergency medical services and dispatch centers with data visualization and analytics tools to create actionable reports and dashboards. Their data-driven tools allow public safety agencies to better assess performance, allocate optimum resources and improve operations.

It is only by playing these tech-savvy criminals at their own game that border protection and law enforcement agencies can keep pace with international criminal networks that continue to become cleverer by the day.

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