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February 2021 | Technology

New lockdown, same threats

John Dobson is chief executive of SmartSearch 

It all feels tediously familiar: hours of working from home, while homeschooling for many, and every day a round of video calls and remote client meetings.

This latest lockdown has all the same hallmarks of the first time, almost a year ago. But this time around not only are we better prepared, but there are some significant differences.

Not least among these is the fact that businesses have much more idea of what to expect and how to deal with operating in a lockdown. Also, crucially, sectors such as the property market are still able to function, at least at the time of writing.

However, the order from the government to return to working from home means that once again those regulated businesses that require ID verification for customer onboarding processes will be vulnerable to money laundering and financial fraud.

Sadly, the same old threats are still there, and while the industry has learned better ways of working remotely, so too have the organised criminals looking to exploit potential gaps in security.

During the first six months of 2020, we witnessed a 66% rise in fraudulent activity compared to the last six months of 2019. Figures from Barclays in the autumn show that, since the first national lockdown, evidence of cryptocurrency fraud has been increasingly reported.

We are now living with the biggest wave of the coronavirus outbreak, and we must ensure that now more than ever businesses are protected from paying the substantial price that comes with online crime.

If there is one lesson we can learn from the first lockdown back in March, it is that businesses have individual accountabilities to ensure they are compliant, and their anti-money laundering (AML) policies are impermeable. The big shift we expect to see is many more businesses in this sector looking to electronic verification to onboard customers more securely.

Not only is this quicker and more secure, it is also COVID-safe.

The technology is available to make a remote ID check for an individual online in two seconds, and a check for a business in less than three minutes, with bank account checks, facial recognition and document verification to deliver additional layers of security for clients that are seriously risk averse. These are browser-based systems that can be up and running within 24 hours.

With the potential for several months of restrictions ahead, businesses need to have the systems in place to ensure they are compliant with know your customer (KYC) and know your business (KYB) legislation.

Firms in the property sector, agents, brokers etcetera, are exposed to the risk of fraud because ID verification processes are manual and outdated.

This time around, there’s no excuse for leaving these gaps in security open for exploitation by criminals, as electronic verification presents the best alternative.   

We must be prepared to adapt to these changes faster than criminals, to ensure that businesses are 100% protected against such attacks.