Social media, tattoos expose public servants to organised crime

By David Donaldson

September 24, 2015

Public sector agencies are not doing enough to address the risk of employees being targeted by organised crime groups, Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission warns.

The threat of the exploitation of public servants is a significant risk to the Victorian public sector and many bodies lack an awareness of the threat, IBAC CEO Alistair Maclean warned with the release of an IBAC report on the topic:

“Most public sector bodies hold information or commodities that criminal groups can use to help them commit crimes and they are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want.

“There is increasing evidence of people involved in criminal activity attempting to use public servants who have access to sensitive or valuable information in order to further their illegal activities or avoid detection.”

IBAC identified four strategies organised criminals were using to target public sector workers:

  • Pre-existing relationships, such as family, friendships or cultural ties;
  • Social media;
  • Interest in tattoos, fitness culture, bodybuilding and martial arts; and
  • Illicit drug use and the misuse of prescription medication.

Arguing that members of the public were more likely to develop incidental associations with organised crime through an interest in tattoos, fitness, bodybuilding and martial arts, the report noted that such links allowed crime groups to “actively screen” public servants.

Social media offers crime groups the opportunity to dig up employment details, personal interests and characteristics “that could allow the identification of personal vulnerabilities”, it said.

Criminal groups have already used social media to identify and recruit people to serve as drug couriers. The report notes:

“Criminals use these details to initiate contact, which at first may appear to be innocent, but which may escalate as the target’s potential criminal use is assessed.”

It also highlighted the potential danger in information across different platforms being linked up:

“Social media allows large numbers of public sector employees to be identified. Some applications, such as LinkedIn, may also identify work units and position responsibilities.

“When combined with information from other social media platforms, it may be possible to identify a target’s name, date of birth, photographs, details of their friends and families, personal interests, where they spend their spare time, gambling behaviour, relationship status and emotional vulnerabilities.”

IBAC’s research highlights the threat of criminal cultivation is not on the radar for public sector agencies.

Without awareness of the risk to their organisation and employees, public bodies are unequipped to detect and report corrupt approaches and employees are unlikely to be able to identify and repel targeting by crime groups. This presents long-term risks to government agencies.

The answer is a “robust security culture” involving better risk assessment and vetting, as well as training and keeping employees up-to-date on emerging security issues, says the anti-corruption body.

Public sector bodies with access to law enforcement, identity and credit card information are most likely to be targeted by criminal groups. Additionally, decision-making and regulatory bodies in the construction, planning, prostitution, gaming and liquor industries present attractive opportunities for crime groups to generate income or launder the proceeds of crime. Maclean said:

“Public sector agencies need to address this threat through risk assessments, as well as have good vetting processes, regular and random audits, and a robust security culture.”

“IBAC is working with public sector agencies to help them understand, assess and manage the risk of criminal groups grooming their employees.”

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