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Bankers to get help with spotting human trafficking

For some years now, banks have used transactional data to flag potential signs of human trafficking, but often the signs are hard to read.

A so-called funnel account — that is, an account that receives lots of deposits from a variety of sources that are then quickly wired back out — could indicate human trafficking or money laundering, for instance. An account with a lot of hotel charges in a short period of time might point to human trafficking.

The American Bankers Association is hoping to help bankers identify distinctive signs of human trafficking with a new remote training course aimed at compliance and branch staff. The association said Thursday that it is responding to growing demand from members for help as well as a dearth of training tailored to banking.

“Banks play a very critical line of defense in this, certainly in the branch level and elsewhere in looking at transactions, patterns and behaviors,” said Jim Edrington, the ABA's chief member engagement officer. “We thought it’d be a great idea to provide some education to help banks identify some of those behaviors or traits or red flags so they can report that up the line.”

Banks are in a unique position to spot red flags of human trafficking in part because they have vast quantities of financial transactional data at their fingertips. Additionally, branch staff might also spot unusual behavior by customers. For instance, a banker might take note of a customer who comes into a branch to make a deposit but does not say anything or seems uncomfortable.

Though banks are required to report some types of suspected crimes, like money laundering, there is no legal requirement that they address human trafficking. However, many banks have stepped up to play a greater role, in large part because of increased public attention to the issue.

The ABA gave U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis as an example. Knowing that sex traffickers could take advantage when its hometown was the site of the 2018 Super Bowl, the $495 billion-asset U.S. Bank began preparing 10 months in advance of the event. The bank contacted local and federal law enforcement and developed a roster of potential red flags, which it shared with its branches and other banks in the area. Authorities estimated that information ultimately helped law enforcement apprehend 94 people for sex trafficking.

The association said the course will teach bankers about human trafficking and what distinguishes it from human smuggling, potential red flags and how to best report possible trafficking or smuggling. Bankers are advised not to intervene directly because that can make matters worse.

The course is meant to be completed in about an hour.

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