I recently met someone who had been to a training session I gave years ago, and he said that the one thing that had stuck in his mind was the concept of smurfing. (For those of you scratching your heads, smurfing is where you divide a big lot of dirty cash into small amounts and get your minions – often addled druggies – to pay it in over the counter for you, in the hope that the smaller deposits will go unnoticed. It’s called smurfing because the minions are like the Smurfs – all identical, scurrying everywhere, and ultimately valueless.) You’d think that it might have gone out of fashion, with so many crimes going cash-less and (you’d hope) banking systems growing smart enough to spot it, but no – as I myself wrote only two months ago.
I think people remember the concept of smurfing purely because of the name; if we called it dividing, or cash-sharing, it would go the way of all AML information – but the name really does it a great favour. And now I’d like to introduce you to its even more glamorous cousin: cuckoo smurfing. Yes, you heard me: cuckoo smurfing. It was a new one on me, I will admit, when I read about it in an email from SOCA. I don’t know if they made up the term, but they certainly publicised it in a press release on 31 May 2013. According to SOCA, cuckoo smurfing is “where proceeds of crime are transferred through the accounts of legitimate and unwitting customers who are expecting genuine payments from overseas”, which makes perfect sense. So the payment sends criminal money to the account (which is expecting an incoming payment), just as the cuckoo lays her egg in another bird’s nest and lets the tenant have all the hassle. Like so many laundering techniques, it simply takes an existing scam – smurfing – and updates it for the digital age, but the name is genius. I promise that if you tell your staff to be on the lookout for evil cuckoo smurfs, you will have their complete attention. Don’t explain, and you can enjoy watching them checking under their desks, closing the windows, etc.