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COR.SPARK Interview

How to Spot Financial Fraud with Former Undercover Cop Chris Mathers

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Symcor November 05, 2019

Crime and risk expert, Chris Mathers spent twenty years undercover with the RCMP, taking down organized crime by posing as a gangster, drug trafficker, and money launderer. His deep insight into how the underworld operates guided him through investigations for the FBI, the US Drug Enforcement Administration, US Customs Service, Interpol, and Scotland Yard.

Today, Mathers consults companies on due diligence, cyber security and financial crimes. A featured speaker at COR.SPARK Innovation Summit 2019, Mathers will talk about synthetic identity theft and how financial institutions can root out this growing challenge. In this exclusive interview with Symcor, we discuss the role that technology plays in financial fraud and what needs to change at the regulatory and industry level to combat synthetic identity theft. 

Symcor: For over four decades you’ve led the fight against money laundering and financial crime. How has the nature of financial fraud changed over the years?

Chris Mathers: The most profound change, obviously, is technology. When I first started, people committed fraud on paper. The proliferation of technology has provided criminals with the opportunity to commit crimes with a high monetary return and little chance of apprehension across international borders.

Another interesting change relates to trust. One of the side effects of the proliferation of technology seems to be the gradual erosion of trust. Today, it is almost assumed that every transaction may be fraudulent. For even the most basic transactions, consumers are now required to produce identification to confirm their identity.

Finally, we need to realize that there are no new crimes, but new ways of committing the same old crimes.

Symcor: One of the fastest growing financial crimes is synthetic identity theft. Why have banks, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies been unable to contain this menace?

Chris Mathers: Synthetic identity fraud has always existed in some form or another. But the current privacy legislative framework in Canada, which has not been substantially updated to consider emerging technologies, poses challenges to overcoming this problem. Financial institutions and the public markets are the backbone of our economic system, and we have to preserve the faith that Canadians have in that system. If fraud is allowed to proliferate, that faith could be lost.

Secondly, courts need to stop considering fraud a ‘victimless crime’. It’s hardly that. Sentencing should address deterrence and punishment.  

Symcor: What needs to change to enhance our current risk posture?

Chris Mathers: I think that we need to revisit our approach to privacy regulation in Canada and bring it in line with modern realities. It is particularly challenging to combat financial criminals when our current legislative framework precludes the sharing of information in all but limited circumstances.

Privacy and data protection are paramount; however it is important to have a framework where certain information may be shared for legitimate purposes in combating financial crimes.

Symcor: What was the most challenging aspect of working undercover, and what were the key learnings that came out of your experience as an undercover operative?

Chris Mathers: The most challenging aspect? Trying not to get shot!

Seriously though, I learned that criminals are still people. They have the same wishes, dreams, and desires that everyone else has. The difference is that they’ll do anything to realize those. They also know that honest people think everyone else is honest. Criminals know that this isn’t true.

Interested in learning more about Synthetic Identity Fraud? Register now for the 4th Annual COR.SPARK Innovation Summit on November 14 in Toronto to hear Chris Mathers discuss financial crimes. You can look forward to a day of learning and networking with Fintech thought-leaders, and financial and security professionals from across Canada. Visit us at www.symcor.ca/register to join our exclusive guest list.