Global Non-Profit Fighting Human Crime


I am a 20-year financial crime fraud professional. I have led fraud management at several organisations and managed it across (I think) about 30 countries. Out of college, I didn’t intend to get into financial services or financial crimes for that matter. I was actually planning to have a career in broadcast television, having interned at ABC News during college. After graduating from college, I went to work for an Internet company in order to earn some stock before planning to relocate to Los Angeles. I ended up discovering some e-commerce fraud that led me to help design and deploy one of the first home-grown fraud detection systems for a relatively large Internet company. Which then led me down the path of fighting fraud, as I found it very rewarding and engaging.

There were not many e-commerce fraud specialists at the time, and I found myself quickly moving over to financial services and helping them manage fraud related to e-commerce. I spent some time in credit risk, before moving over permanently to fight fraud. In several of my roles, I would find myself traveling the world helping local bank teams find all kinds of unique and locally specific fraud threats.

I grew-up overseas, and I still enjoyed international travel, especially when I was able to spend time back in Asia. My last stop in banking was at a regional bank, after which I was ready to leave financial services completely. I’d like to describe it as, “wearing all the tread off my tires”. I’ve been writing and recording music for the better part of 20 years also, and I wanted to spend more time expressing myself through that.

After leaving the financial services industry entirely, I found myself having a cup of coffee with someone who used to work for the United Nations, discussing the issue of human trafficking. During the conversation, he mentioned that financial services needed to do more to detect criminal rings and protect victims. Over the next three weeks, I found myself compelled to get back into the fight. But this time, doing it with purpose, not just balancing customer experience and fraud losses… But truly going after the underpinning evils and inspiring those around me to do the same. It was in 2019 that I established the nonprofit, The Knoble. This was shortly after I joined PWC, as a partner in their anti-fraud practice. Just recently, I left PwC to spend more time directly focused on the mission of The Knoble.

To wake up, equip, and engage professionals in financial services, law enforcement, and financial crimes to combat human crime and protect vulnerable populations. I firmly believe that the financial crimes departments in financial services communities have the best people training, data, and technologies to win the fight over these evils. And the hope of many is that we start working together more effectively and bring much-needed innovation to fight human crime. We do so many amazing things to fight cyber, fraud, and money laundering threats. It would truly be remarkable if we could start to deploy more of these controls and infrastructure to protect the vulnerable.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I get to wake up every day with the sole goal of being an encourager and inspiring people smarter and more equipped and talented than I am. I spent 20 years fighting financial crime without a true appreciation or understanding of the evil behind what I was working on. But now I get to spend the next 20 years awakened and fighting in a more complete way, alongside others that are doing the same. I have a lot of amazing interactions with law enforcement and leaders across the industry. But the highlight of my day, week, and month are when I get to interact with somebody, at any level, who shares with me that The Knoble Network has brought purpose, meaning to their life, or reawakened a passion that they have forgotten about. I recently onboarded six new volunteers, and at the end of the session, they each shared with me why they wanted to get involved and why this mission meant something to each of them personally. Everyone had a different story; everyone was meaningful. When I think of a worthy job, to spend 40 to 60 hours a week on, I can’t think of something more rewarding.

What is your opinion on predicate offence? And what impact, in your opinion, has and does this have on society?

Let me answer this from an angle that maybe some of your readers don’t approach this. As mentioned, I am a fraud professional. I have worked with my AML counterparts for many decades. However, most of the time, I’ve operated under separate processes, technologies, and programs, even if we fell underneath the same organizational hierarchy. I think what cannot be lost when we talk about financial crimes and predicate offenses, is that many of these are interconnected. I’ve had some extremely meaningful interactions with members of law-enforcement that have indicated to me cases that they have worked have been more than just theoretically connected. Scam and fraud cases have funneled illicit monies through mutual accounts to end destinations where criminal rings were operating human and drug trafficking businesses. Discussions about cases like these have left an imprint on how I operate each day and communicate externally. I only wish there was more visibility into this interconnectedness. If we truly understood how all of these financial crimes were connected, I think we would be able to more intelligently speak to the type of institutional and systemic change we need to make to protect people. If we understood that behind every transaction, is a human being. Behind every scam, is someone’s loved one, someone’s hopes, dreams, and maybe even freedom. I hope that through our network and working with the amazing people in the private industry and law enforcement, we could maybe get more visibility into these predicate and related crimes.

Where do you see the biggest offences?

Something that the industry has their eye on is the rapid increase of scam-related fraud. As mentioned, the scams are also used to finance other human crimes. Fraudsters/criminals are attacking the weakest link in the financial chain, going after our customers. As banks have invested heavily in fortifying their defenses over the past several decades, fraudsters are moving right to the customers. We are seeing a global increase in scams, that are targeting victims of all ages and demographics. We are all finding ourselves vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated attacks, however more vulnerable populations are increasingly at risk. The traditional defenses we have deployed are not as effective, as customers are unknowingly taking part in this activity and authorizing the transactions. Much of this willing participation is built upon deception, preying on need, urgency, and trust. I’d argue one of the most significant financial crime problems we are facing globally is the proliferation of scams and underpinning this is the immaturity of financial services programs to measure, detect and treat these events.

The good news is that this is receiving considerable attention and I expect to see quick maturation due to the strength of professionals, data, and control we have available to us. We just need to work together on this particular challenge to accelerate our customer and bank protection.

Read more from our article contributors with Jeanette Kreft as she outlines the top things to consider when engaging an external AML provider in ‘Buyer beware: you can’t contract out your AML obligations‘.

Ian Mitchell, Founder, The Knoble
Ian Mitchell
Founder, The Knoble

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