Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Combat Human Trafficking

with Rafi Aliya Crockett of Polaris

Human traffickers use legitimate financial services to conduct crimes, which leave a virtual paper trail.

Rafi Aliya Crockett, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit with Polaris, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss new methods to identify and combat human trafficking operations using artificial intelligence and data from financial service providers.

Posted on:

November 30, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Making a cash deposit at your local bank ATM, using a credit card to shop online, and transferring money to family and friends with a click of a smartphone button -- All very common transactions, yet some are being used for more harm than good. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business, and like any business, traffickers cannot operate solely on cash. Instead, they depend on financial services that leave behind a virtual paper trail. Joining me to talk about methods to identify and combat human trafficking operations using artificial intelligence from financial-service providers and data is Rafi Aliya Crockett, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit with Polaris. And, Rafi, thank you so much for being here.

Crockett: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And for our viewers at home, we are going to be leaving up the hotline and website throughout the interview. But, Rafi, I want to start with some history on this. Human trafficking and money laundering have been around forever. There are tools in place to combat it. Tell us what some of those are.

Crockett: Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry. And like all criminals, they are motivated by money. And so financial services providers, like our banks, payment processors, credit cards and others, have really started using the tools that they already were using to track money laundering, drug trafficking, terrorist financing, things like that. They're using those tools now to go after human traffickers, both sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

Anderson: But what are those tools?

Crockett: There are traditional money-laundering tools, like transaction monitoring, risk assessments, knowing who your customer is and what their transaction profile should look like and identifying anomalies in that.

Anderson: So now, as you said, you're putting a lot of attention on a money laundering aspect of all of this. So first of all, let's talk about what that is for our viewers who don't know.

Crockett: Money laundering traditionally is using the proceeds of an illicit activity and putting them into the financial system to make them appear that they are clean. And when it comes to human trafficking, it kind of goes both ways. You have a crime that's occurring, and money is being made from that crime that is now being put into our legal -- sorry -- our financial system. But you also have labor trafficking, where there's an absence of money, individuals who are not being paid. So you're not actually seeing that transaction. What you're seeing is an absence of a transaction.

Anderson: We hear so much about artificial intelligence. What role is that playing in all of this?

Crockett: Artificial intelligence is a great tool for those of us who are looking at human traffickers, but it's also a great tool for the traffickers themselves. So financial institutions, law enforcement, and other research institutions are using AI to better profile what trafficking looks like, what these models can be, and how we can more effectively track that. But at the same time, the traffickers now can be faster, quicker. Instead of going after one or two or three, you can do 300 at the same time.

Anderson: And what about the financial red flags? What are those and how are you finding them?

Crockett: Well, there are so many. If you're looking at sex trafficking or labor trafficking, those red flags are different. I'll focus on labor trafficking in particular. You can look for things like an absence of payroll, an absence of payroll taxes, payroll that is not commensurate with the size of the business or the operations of the business. So those are things financial institutions can look at and compare to their customer profile and determine, "Hmm. Something is suspicious here."

Anderson: So, I mean, clearly there are huge and pretty negative implications for a company that is facilitating any kind of bad actors. So I'm wondering, you know, how much is this about a shift in culture? I mean, this isn't just about bad business. This is about something much larger.

Crockett: Well, so many consumers these days are really paying attention to the activities of the products that they buy and the services that are provided to them. And so from not just a business standpoint, but from, like, a CSR and ESG standpoint, a lot of companies are really taking stock of, "Are we using slave labor in our supply chain?" "Are our payments facilitating the sale of sex or child exploitation?" And so a lot of companies are taking stock of that and taking action.

Anderson: Are there certain companies that are more prone to money laundering when it comes to human trafficking than others?

Crockett: There are certain industries that are definitely more high risk for human trafficking, and those are industries that have lower oversight. Things like construction, food and meat processing, landscaping businesses, brothels, massage businesses -- things like that.

Anderson: How much of a dent do you think you've been able to put in this pipeline, and what do you need to do in the future?

Crockett: I think we all need to come together -- Law enforcement, the civil society, and financial institutions all coming together as one and using our expertise and our resources to really tackle this in a holistic way.

Anderson: People are gonna want to know a lot more about this. What is your website? Where can they look?

Crockett: Polarisproject.org. You can identify all of the work that we do there, from sex trafficking, labor trafficking, really working on workers' rights and helping survivors.

Anderson: Rafi Aliya Crockett of Polaris, thank you so much for being here.

Crockett: Thank you so much.

Anderson: And thanks to you as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪ ♪♪

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