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Developing the Investigative Mind

A bad guy thinks like a bad guy. He does bad guy things. He acts like a bad guy. He spends his day trying to think up more bad guy things to do. He associates with other bad guys who all do more bad guy things. He goes to the annual bad guy convention and trade show. He reads “Bad Guy Today” magazine. One of the advantages of being a bad guy is when a bad guy gets an idea, he can try it out immediately and if it does not work, he can analyze, alter and correct it and try it again tomorrow or try something completely different at any time of his choosing. He plays by no rules or regulations, nor does he follow any policies or procedures.

Team good guy, however, has an anvil around its neck. First there is always the issue of the funding dilemma. I’m sure I don’t have to remind anyone reading this that prevention usually gets the last bite from the apple tree. Further, there is the inherent issue that good people tend to think and act like good people. Most of us are not familiar with the bad guy realm. Advantage team bad guy. The usual game plan for team good guy is to fix all known problematic situations. Many times I have heard one of the good guys say something to the effect of, “we have policies that deal with that.” Or, “we have top of the line software”, or “that has never happened before.” However, while you may have policies against the usual suspects, transgressions, incursions, or any known issue, the problem manifests because it is the unknown or the future issue that arises. The issue that you are not yet aware of is the most dangerous. Your reference for criteria is only effective on known problems and based on good guy thinking. Just because the good guy cannot think of a problem issue, does not mean that the bad guy has not or will not.

Herein lies the crux of a very common problem in the land of safety and security. There is a lack of strategic thinking. We usually don’t have a unit assigned to play the role of the bad guy (if they even could) other than some basic quality control (which only assesses known problematic situations). I am talking about real strategic thinking that allows a unit to be free thinkers and provides them with the means to truly go outside of the box. Let me provide an example. As all of us in the AML world know, or should know, a quality AML program usually begins with the Customer Identification Program. That’s great, except all subsequent hard AML work goes out the window if the bad guy used fictitious ID. Perhaps you believe that you have solved all your worries by implementing a biometric iris scanner.

Good guy: “Hey we finally beat the bad guys, now you can only assess your account by putting your eye up to a scanner.” Bad guy: “Those fools don’t realize that computers operate on a binary system. Everything is reduced to a series of digits. If we hack into their system and compromise the corresponding codes then we have everyone’s iris identifiers and we can become them…cool.” Like I said, its always a matter of preparing for the unknown. I remember going through the State Police Academy many moons ago and some old crusty Sergeant once said to me, “Son, you don’t know what you don’t know.” Boy, was he ever right!

Now you may say, let’s hire some bad guys to get their input. I am not a fan of this concept. I would rather hire the investigator that arrested the bad guy, or the attorney that prosecuted him. Admittedly there may be some advantages to consulting with a bad guy however, I would hesitate to give him the keys to the kingdom. While some may say that the former bad guy has paid his dues and has seen the light; that might be so. I will remind you that he usually is only remorseful because he got caught. Not too many bad guys, particularly, white collar criminals, have walked into the front door of the police station and said, here I am and I’m sorry for what I have done, I surrender, and I’d like to make it up to society by working for the good guys now. Furthermore, that mindset, the let’s give the bad guy a chance, flies in the face of the number one rule below – be suspicious. This is exactly the mindset that I am talking about. Being forgiving works well in church, being suspicious works better in risk assessment.

(I should say that I can be fickle and I did change my mind about one former bad guy. I had the opportunity on a couple of occasions to meet and chat with Frank Abagnale of “Catch Me If You Can” fame. I realized that he did what he did as a 17-year old kid and he did it for himself and not as part of an organized criminal element. After Frank paid his dues in the grey bar hotel he spent the next 35 years assisting law enforcement, for free, long after his sentence was completed. Subsequently, his son has gone on to serve in law enforcement. No excuses here, he was wrong for what he did, however, as tough as I can be with my suspicions and assessments, my instincts tell me that he is a very bright man who did something dopey as a kid and ultimately found his way to the straight and narrow. I’m sure there may be other reformed bad guys out there, just be careful if you should choose to avail yourself to this.) 

A key phrase is “using your instincts”. Good instincts is part of developing the investigative mind. Your instincts come from your environment, experience, knowledge and ability. We are not born with investigative instincts, they are developed. As I mentioned earlier, good people think like good people. This is why I sometimes bang my head against the desk when I read some of the AML blogs or listserv’s where it appears that certain people and/or entities that are being investigated are given the benefit of the doubt or excuses are even being created for them by the people who are assigned the task of investigating them. Stop right there! It is not your job, nor mine, to determine guilt or innocence. It is our job to obtain the facts and report the same. When we don’t have all the facts (and you usually don’t) you make use of all your “instincts”. While instincts have no place in the court of law, they sure should take front and center while your completing an investigation. The more experience and knowledge you have, usually, the greater your instincts. Follow your instincts, go through doors, open windows, turn over stones but find as many of the facts as you can without predisposition and/or prejudice. If something does not feel right, then try to figure out why. Be suspicious yet judge slowly.

Here are some thoughts on developing your investigative mind:

1) Be suspicious, be suspicious, be suspicious. The case has come across your desk for a reason. Somebody or some software has viewed this case as usual, or odd. It is up to the Investigator to review, analyze, research, investigate, then report. We all understand a person is innocent until proven guilty. However, this is not the court of law. I’m suspicious of everyone, at least until I can confidently cross them off my list. I cross them off by completing a through investigation, not by guessing, assuming or being captivated by their nice smile. Remember, bad guys try to look and act like good guys. I’m sure there are some who might feel that this is a terrible way to live. I’m not suggesting that you live your life suspicious of everyone all the time. I turn it off…well….hmmm…ok, so maybe I don’t, bad example there. But you can turn if off when you leave the office. Being like Aunt Bea from Mayberry is just not good enough if you want to be a top of the line investigator. The Investigator’s job is to discover the facts as best as he can. Each case should be approached with suspicion on the mind, but with neutrality and evenhandedness as your course of action.

2) The smell test. If you think it stinks, it probably does. You do this job everyday, you work with people who do this job everyday, if for some reason, the hair on the back of your neck is standing up, then go with the feeling. You are probably right. Understand, of course, that hair standing up on the back of your neck is not a valid probable cause in the court of law, so you do need to be able to articulate your feelings. What is making you feel this way? Figure that out, then run with it. This goes back to instincts. Don’t be too quick to dismiss your gut feelings. If you can’t figure it out, ask a new set of eyes to take a look. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. I have yet to meet anyone who resembled Sherlock Holmes and has all the answers. We can all use a little assistance from time to time.

3) The Investigator must understand that if he only considers one hypothesis then he may be missing the boat. You must begin the case entertaining numerous possible hypothesis’. The more knowledge you have about current trends and patterns then the more hypothesis’ become available. Keeping up with and abreast of the latest and greatest techniques and methods is very important.

4) Make available new sources of information and/or technology. This might be more difficult as it usually involves spending budget money. However, there are other things that you can avail yourself to such as, local meetings with your peers and law enforcement. Various free seminars and webinars. Trade magazines and publications.

5) “There has never been any cases before like this,” or “No one has been arrested for this type of activity previously.” Ahhh…the call of the mild! Hey gang, just because you don’t know of any cases does not mean that law enforcement is not currently engaged in one. How would you like to be the first one victimized? Did you ever notice whenever some nutcase goes on a shooting spree the TV news interviews the neighbors and they always say the same thing…”he was such a nice guy”, “we never knew of any problems”…yada, yada. You are not being paid to be the clueless neighbor, you are being paid to keep the place secure. Your job should be to envision the possibilities and create a path of action to prevent disaster. Refer back to rule number 1.

6) J.A.D.E. – Justify, Articulate and Define Everything. Assuming that you no longer have the “Pollyanna, everything is wonderful attitude”, and have morphed into the to the “I’m suspicious of everything that moves attitude”, then you need to follow the JADE rule. In an investigation everything you do is memorialized. You never know where that file will end up; executive board, law enforcement, or courtroom. You have to justify all your actions and further articulate and explain why you did what you did or why you did not do what you did not do. Your results will be defined and ultimately an action will be taken. (Note that even a inaction needs to be defined).

I wish you the best of luck in the constant battle between good and evil. Keep your sense of humor, stay alert and be diligent.

I work with AML programs large and small, if you need a customized and quality anti-money laundering program, training, or advise I invite you to contact me to learn how I can help with your AML compliance. – Kevin Sullivan, CAMS, President of The Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Training Academy.

The Biggest Dangers of Money Laundering by Kevin Sulllivan, CAMS The AML Training Academy President

About the Author

Kevin Sullivan, CAMS, CCI is a retired New York State Police Investigator and Federal Agent who dedicated his career to AML and continues that work through his company, The AML Training Academy and Advisory LLC. Kevin coordinated AML investigations for the state of New York while being detailed to one of the worlds largest AML task forces, the NY High Intensity Financial Crime Area (HIFCA) El Dorado Task Force. He has helped develop and implement global AML guidelines and trained and advised all industries and government agencies requiring AML around the globe. He helped to write various certification programs for the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists’ (ACAMS) and was the co-founder and former chair of their inaugural chapter which was in NY. Follow Kevin or reserve a seat in one of his live webinars. Space is limited!

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