Mobile money and organised crime in Africa

Mobile money and organised crime in Africa

Mobile money and organised crime in Africa

The development of mobile money services in Africa offer criminals a substantial opportunity to utilize these services to target victims in a variety of crimes as well as to further enable other forms of criminality. This rapid service development combined with criminal opportunities represents a security issue of interest to all member countries in Africa and poses a significant challenge to law enforcement agencies in member countries. As a result, INTERPOL, under the European Union funded ENACT Project, has assessed this issue in order to help drive a more strategic law enforcement response.

Criminals and criminal organizations will most probably continue to utilize mobile money services following the recent increase in their popularity and the prominent role such services now play in society across Africa. This prominent role in society has enabled criminals to exploit weaknesses in regulations and identification systems, further enabled by a lack of experience and resources in law enforcement.

Crime types have been identified that exploit mobile money services across Africa. These primarily include various types of fraud that target the distinct stages of deployment for mobile money services. Whilst acquisitive crimes significantly impact the lives of victims, criminals have also identified further opportunities to exploit mobile money services to assist other criminal activities. These ‘mobile money enabled crimes’ include illicit commodities purchases, terrorism financing and firearm enabled crime. Such significant crimes pose a threat to stability and security across Africa if not addressed by member countries.

The threat from criminality facilitated by mobile money services in Africa is substantial, yet there is sometimes limited capacity amongst law enforcement to manage this complex issue, especially concerning the technical expertise required to utilise relevant evidence in the criminal justice system. As mobile money services develop interoperability across Africa, stronger partnerships amongst all law enforcement agencies, greater awareness of the overall issue at a regional level and identification of best practice responses from such agencies will be required. INTERPOL is in a position to support member countries through coordinated, intelligence led support to law enforcement using a range of police databases and operational support techniques.

The following are the key findings found through an analysis of a range of data sources available on mobile money in Africa:

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers are the most common use of mobile payment services. They accounted for 91.4 per cent of the 21 billion total mobile payment transactions processed in 2019. As a result, this form of transaction represents the most significant vulnerability for exploitation in the form of fraud.
  • Cross-border mobile money remittances are the fastest growing segment of the peer-to-peer transfer mobile money market in Africa, where 120 million people received international remittances worth USD 60 billion in 2015. This tendency shows no sign of slowing down with the total value of P2P transfers having more than doubled between 2017 and 2019. This has resulted in transnational criminal syndicates exploiting mobile money services to enable low risk money laundering and purchases of illicit commodities with an international dimension, whilst benefitting from the anonymity offered by poorly applied regulatory standards.
  • Eastern Africa is by far the leading region in Africa in terms of value of transactions, of which it represented close to 70 per cent in 2018. The share of Western Africa in terms of the total value of transactions is in strong progression since 2013. Mobile money will continue expanding across Africa. There is still significant growth potential for mobile money services in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt which so far have low rates of financial inclusion and limited availability of mobile money services. The rapidly expanding nature of the industry has provided organised crime the opportunity to capitalize on the lack of regulatory adherence in the industry. This has particularly provided opportunities for illicit finances to be laundered in Africa by African and global criminal syndicates.
  • Mobile money crime facilitating factors include: the weakness of individual identification systems; the lack of consumer awareness, the lack of resources and training of law enforcement concerning the collection and use of technical evidence in the criminal justice system. These factors have resulted in difficulties in prosecuting offenders and tackling established organized crime groups.
  • There are strong indications that mobile money enabled criminality represents a significant threat to society in Africa. Such threats include: terrorist financing, illicit goods purchases, money laundering and extortion payments all of which offer criminal incentive to participate in or associate to violent activities that serve to destabilize public order and citizen safety. In addition to this, mobile money service exploitation by criminals benefits from poorly applied regulations and expertise in the criminal justice system. If this is not addressed, there is a significant risk of further criminal proliferation due to perceived risks versus rewards.
  • The criminal exploitation of mobile money services is evident in a range of crime types that include; fraud, money laundering, extortion, human trafficking and people smuggling, the illegal wildlife trade, firearms availability, the drugs trade, stolen motor vehicle trade and terrorism.

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