Last month, the Council on Foreign Relations reported that an arrest warrant issued by U.S. law enforcement for a prominent Nigerian policeman, for being in cahoots with a Nigerian “Yahoo boy,” a popular Nigerian term for cyber criminals, led to a major corruption scandal in Nigeria being exposed. While the story attracted minimal media attention, the prior investigation of the “Yahoo boy,” a social media influencer called ‘Hushpuppi’ with millions of followers sparked a media frenzy as the made-for-TV details of his extravagant life was revealed. Earlier this summer, authorities accused him of being involved in a transnational criminal syndicate responsible for the 2019 attempted hack from Malta’s Bank of Valletta and aiding North Korean hackers in their money laundering operations, both of which were major stories in the compliance community. What was unknown at the time was that the key player in these schemes was the Instagram influencer who was flaunting his (unexplained) wealth in front of millions on social media.
The story is reminiscent of Jenny Ambuila, a then-26 year old Miami-based Instagram influencer, which Sigma profiled in early 2019.
As a Miami-based social media influencer, and as her cachet soared, her world came to a crashing halt as her lavish lifestyle sparked a money laundering probe of her customs official father. It’s rare for a financial crime story to get widespread coverage without high-profile individuals and/or examples of institutional money laundering. The viral trajectory of the story appears to be due to the genesis of the investigation - social media. Jenny Ambuila probably did not think twice before posting images of her white Porsche Cayenne and bright red Lamborghini Huracan on Instagram, but it did attract the attention of some very important people, the Colombian federal police. According to authorities, her father, a mid-level customs agent, took millions of dollars in bribes for letting untaxed goods to pass through the country.
The narrative, while unconventional, demonstrates the untapped potential of publicly available data in the fight against financial crime. Despite only earning $3,000 a month (officially), Jenny's father's crime wasn't discovered during his bank's CDD/KYC processes, where discrepancies between the expected and actual volume of activity were meant to be detected and flagged. With financial institutions utilizing less than 5% of available data to combat financial crime, harnessing the power of the internet, and its ever-increasing ocean of data has never been more important. While the Hushpuppi case is reminiscent of Jenny Ambuila, a case that has taken newfound prominence in a gradually digitized world, it has highlighted the significance of new red flags that increasingly rely on alternative data, of which we are just beginning to scratch the surface and explore.