Firms need electronic ID checks to beat coronavirus

John Dobson

March 31, 2020

John Dobson is the chief executive of SmartSearch

Professional money launderers are a pretty ruthless bunch, and you can be sure they will look for any weakness in the defences and seek to exploit that for their own criminal ends.

To them, the outbreak of COVID-19 may present an immediate health scare – they are just as vulnerable to the virus as anyone else, after all – but it also presents a potential opportunity.

The measures put in place to combat the spread of the disease may make it practically impossible for firms that rely on old-fashioned manual processes to meet their anti-money-laundering (AML), Know Your Customer and due diligence obligations.

Clients will not be able to present documents in person, and with offices locked and staff working from home, there is nowhere to post them to safely.

Not too many people are going to be happy sending personal data to addresses other than official business premises, and in any case are staff working remotely going to be equipped to do all the checks necessary.

Property professionals just emerging from one period of prolonged uncertainty and now staring the much greater threat of COVID-19 square in the face, may be tempted to cut corners to get business over the line. But this could turn out to be a serious mistake.

Any dropping of the guard, even for what seems like a ‘safe’ transaction, could end up aiding and abetting money launderers, who have specifically targeted the UK property market in recent years.

The regulatory authorities won’t turn a blind eye to infractions because of the coronavirus scare, so firms need to be just as vigilant as ever.

The solution to this apparent dilemma lies in electronic verification (EV). An online EV platform can carry out full identity checks using just a name, address and date of birth, with no need for physical documents.

At the same time, it can perform all the necessary AML checks, including full Sanctions and Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) screening, and conduct automatic Enhanced Due Diligence on any matches, to eliminate false positives.

These checks can be done in the office or – if staff are ‘social distancing’ or self-isolating for any period, via an app on their tablets or mobile phone. And a full AML check takes just seconds to perform, so it saves time as well.

Money launderers could well look to exploit the current crisis. If you use electronic verification, there is no reason why you or your firm should be caught up in that.

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