Kenneth Murray, the head of forensic accounting at the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, yesterday warned that serious organised criminals are making use of modern technology to transfer dirty money.
Speaking at the eighth annual Scottish Financial Crime Group Conference, Mr Murray said that in the next five years pre-paid cards would become increasingly mainstream and banks and retail companies needed to be vigilant because organised gangs were already exploiting them.
He said pre-paid cards, such as iTunes and gift cards, can easily be loaded up with cash which is difficult to trace.
He warned that growing numbers of people would use the cards as an alternative to carrying cash, and said: “In the olden days if you were a criminal you might hold up a bank and would need a getaway car. Pre-paid cards are the modern getaway car.
“You can top the cards up with a mobile phone or on the internet. It’s a relatively simple way of transferring cash which is difficult to trace. Clearly these are characteristics of advantage to money launderers.
“In the next five years pre-paid cards are going to become a much more common way of handling personal finances. And it is not just at the lower end. American Express is looking at this currently.”
He added: “We are aware that these cards are already being used by organised crime groups. Banks and other businesses looking to get into this have to look at how to protect against abuse. We also need to work together to look at ways to counter abuse and deal with it and ensure that suspicious activities are reported.
“The agency is responsible for protecting Scotland from organised crime and part of that is making Scotland a safe environment for people to conduct business. We work to predict, dismantle and disrupt.”
Last year five men from Rochdale were jailed for using iTunes music gift vouchers to launder money in an internet scam.
The men used stolen credit card numbers to buy £750,000 worth of vouchers to sell at cheaper prices through eBay.
They were caught when police stopped one of the men during a search at Hull port in 2007 and seized his laptop.
When officers examined a confiscated hard drive, along with two other computers found, they discovered the details of more than 7000 bank cards.
They later discovered that many of the details had been used fraudulently to purchase iTunes gift certificates.
Police chiefs, local government officials and experts from the financial and commercial industries attended the conference organised by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) and the Scottish Business Crime Centre (SBCC).
Angela Wilson, Assistant Chief Constable of Tayside Police and Acpos lead for financial crime, said: “Adapting to the evolving threat of financial crime remains a key priority for the Scottish Police Service.
“The conference provides an excellent opportunity for the private and public sector to come together to discuss how to tackle the threat of financial crime.”
Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing said: “Scotland is becoming safer. Latest statistics show progress in the fight against crime right across the country, with recorded crime now at its lowest level in 35 years, violent crime down, and those who do break the law being punished through the longest prison sentences in a decade.
“However, we cannot be complacent and at a time when financial difficulty and economic uncertainty is on everyone’s mind, it is even more important that we do as much as we can to limit any potential crime from causing further difficulties and problems to all sectors of our businesses and communities.”