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Africa's mobile money risks alarm Interpol

Interpol warned that organized crime has infiltrated Africa's mobile money industry as a platform for human trafficking, money laundering and the drug trade.

The world's largest international police organization warned on Monday that organized crime groups have infiltrated Africa's burgeoning billion-dollar mobile money industry as a platform for human trafficking, money laundering and the global drug trade.

Interpol's report said criminals' exploitation of Africans' growing reliance on mobile phones for banking and commerce has led to alarming rises in fraud, extortion, terrorism and illegal wildlife trade. It urged a crackdown on organized crime's ability to "exploit weaknesses in regulations and identification systems."

“The evidence shows that criminals are already exploiting mobile money services in Africa," said Cyril Gout, acting director of operational support and analysis for 194-nation Interpol, based in Lyon, France.

"The anonymity that these services too often allow and the technical nature of the industry also present a challenge to law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting these crimes,” he said in a statement. “This report emphasizes the need to act is now."

Weak and inconsistent IDs system

The 53-page report was part of Interpol's three-year Project ENACT to combat organized crime in Africa, which accounts for almost half of all registered mobile money accounts globally. By 2025, two-thirds of all people in most of Africa are projected to be using smartphones, up from about two-fifths today.

The European Union-funded project is run in cooperation with the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies and the Geneva-based Global Initiative's platform against transnational organized crime.

Though mobile technology has helped transform global development, giving poor, rural farmers and other business owners growing access to markets and cash, the weak and inconsistent systems used to verify user identities in a cash-based informal economy have posed tough challenges to law enforcement.

Africa's lack of standard IDs makes mobile money services more vulnerable to crime and adds to the difficulty for courts in using technical know-how and equipment for investigations, according to Interpol.

"This prominent role in society has enabled criminals to exploit weaknesses in regulations and identification systems, further enabled by a lack of experience and resources in law enforcement," the report said. "Such significant crimes pose a threat to stability and security across Africa if not addressed by member countries."