Profiting from Front Line Needs

In this blog I aim to highlight some truly despicable examples of terrorist organisations attempting to gain a financial advantage from the COVID-19 pandemic at the expense of first responders. On this day which marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, we are reminded of the critical and ongoing importance of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing measures.

We are living in peculiar and troubled times. You don’t need me to tell you that some people and organisations have seen the current status quo as a means of lining their pockets for some of the most nefarious of motivations possible . Now, I’m all for taking advantage of a situation fairly but not if it materially affects anyone else to their detriment. The social standard is to operate fairly, honestly and within the laws. I believe that many, if not all, of us have a sufficiently robust ‘moral compass’, no more so than when it comes to providers of healthcare.
Suspected Terrorist Financing

In an investigative piece recently published by CBS News, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is accused of ‘selling’ non-existent items of personal protective equipment (PPE) online to finance terrorism. During the COVID -19 pandemic hospitals and nursing homes have been desperate to ensure the safety of their patients and care givers alike and to do so, they clearly can’t afford to be without PPE. In what appears to be a classic case of demand far outstripping supply, ISIS spotted an opportunity and acted quickly, employing a sophisticated and plausible website named facemaskcenter.com; however you will pleased to know that this site has now been seized by US authorities and shut down.

How much damage has been done and how much money has been lost? We will probably never know the full extent; however it is safe to say that the losses could be significant. Not only in financial terms, we need to factor in the possible social consequences as well, in terms of possible transmission of the virus without the proper protection. In a strangely ironic way, this wickedness almost makes fraudulent requests under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) seem like penny pinching. Some might say that stealing from the PPP is a ‘victimless crime’, though the question can be if the monies went to the most deserving recipients. When it comes to offering medical equipment under false pretenses, there is almost certainly potentially dire consequences and numerous victims.

It would appear that there have been other instances of similar illegal and misrepresentative activities. One example is using social media in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). An article from the Khaleej Times focusing on the coronavirus pandemic talks about fake accounts being set up on numerous platforms to purportedly offer face masks for sale. Furthermore, they suggest that links included in the social media profiles take the user to websites which promote Daesh (as ISIS are referred to in that part of the world) and “terror literature”.

Effective Due Diligence

More now than ever it should be considered ‘mission critical’ that organisations know who they are dealing with and know their supplier (KYS). I can’t immediately think of two more compelling scenarios where knowledge of your vendor was required. Granted, the purchasers of the PPE might not have had the luxury of time on their side or to be able to ‘shop around’ for masks, so desperate and immediate was their need; however, technology now exists in real time where screening of prospects, customers or vendors can be done, results returned and decisions made in less time that it took you to read the heading of this blog. In concert with our colleagues at Moody’s Analytics and nonprofit organizations like Project N95, we have been able to identify dozens of seemingly underhanded and false suppliers of PPE. While most were not so sophisticated as to be funding terrorist activities, their actions were robbing vulnerable healthcare providers of funds that could have been used for the common good.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic in my mentality. That said, I fail to understand the logic or foundations of any ideology that sits underneath these actions, simply put that it is acceptable to knowingly and willingly defraud people whose primary intention is to altruistically help and support others.

In this week where we collectively remember the victims and the survivors, many of them first responders, of one of the most savage terrorist atrocities, namely that of the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 9/11, we are reminded we need to stay vigilant. For RDC, a mission-driven organization founded in the wake of 9/11, it is core to our purpose to continue to identify and stem the changing sources of terrorist financing. While great strides have been made, these terrorists continue to establish new targets for their funding needs while also undermining those at the front lines and robbing society of fundamental and life-saving materials. And that’s about as low as you can get.