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Discovering criminals through data analysis

By Justin Boyer ’21

Justin Boyer at his desk at Syracuse University, where he’s pursuing a doctorate in math.

What can you do with a math degree? One option: Use data analysis to hunt down criminals. You can tell so much about someone by their spending habits.

The U.S. government defines money laundering as “ transactions in which criminals, including terrorist organizations, attempt to disguise the proceeds, sources or nature of their illicit activities.” As an anti-money laundering (AML) analyst, I worked with financial institutions to identify potential money laundering activity by analyzing data to find anomalies related to AML regulations. I also worked with these institutions to make sure they are up to date with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations related to money laundering and other financial crimes.

Money launderers often get money through drug dealing, terrorist financing, and human trafficking and disguise the source through property investing, gambling, and fake or illegitimate businesses.

So where does the analyst come into play? Working through the data provided and alongside the help of the financial institutions, I hunted down criminals — without any of the confrontation that law enforcement has. I was on the back end, writing reports and finding the irregularities that later were sent to the government and law enforcement. My work identified financial crime, which is usually indicative of additional crime. Due to this not being independent or isolated, by identifying financial crime, analysts open the gate for law enforcement to get involved and shut down any other illegal activities that may be occurring.

How much illegal activity can be tied to finances? It turns out, a lot. Patterns of money laundering were found between the terrorists that committed 9/11, and we now know how to look out for them. My colleagues and I aided law enforcement in human trafficking cases, terrorism (both domestic and foreign), fraud investigations, and even the Russian-Ukraine situation with all the sanctions in action. Financial crimes that people do not always think of include elder abuse, drug dealing, and wildlife trafficking.

Money laundering, and financial crime in general, is such a broad topic. These impact the world in a magnitude of ways. What analysts do is important and crucial, as much as it is exciting and rewarding. This is a field that will always continue to grow.

Justin Boyer ’21 (mathematics major, German studies minor) worked at AML RightSource in Buffalo, New York, as an anti-money laundering analyst, and has gone on to pursue a doctorate in math at Syracuse University.