Criminals are trying to use Sheffield Council to launder thousands of pounds of dirty money.
Cash from crime and dodgy cheques are being used to pay council tax bills and business rates prompting council bosses to toughen up on fraud.
Money laundering is when someone uses the proceeds of a crime. Criminals try to do transactions with dirty money - from crimes or from untaxed income - in an attempt to make it look “clean‟ and from a legitimate source.
They can then use the money without detection and stay out of reach of the police and tax man.
A report by the council’s Internal Audit into fraud says: “Money laundering can include payments of large bills such as council tax or business rates in cash.
“Another example is overpayment of bills – this can be to obtain a refund cheque from the council which is much easier to pay in to a bank than large amounts of cash.
“Another is individuals claiming benefits who appear to be living significantly beyond their declared means.”
The council is advising all staff on how to spot criminal activities. Suspicious activity includes payments in cash of £1,000 or more or people making a series of lump sums in cash over a short period of time that total £2,500 or more.
Secretive clients who refuse to provide the information requested sound warning bells. And staff need to watch for transactions which don’t make sense, such as unusual property transactions.
Central cashiers, council tax processing, creditors, property auctions, licensing, marketing, planning and property services are the council departments most at risk of money laundering
But the report warns: “This is by no means a comprehensive list. Staff should always be open to the possibility of potential money laundering activity
“It is impossible to give clear rules as to how to recognise money laundering activity. All individuals can do is to be aware of the policy and to trust their professional judgement and experience.
“If an action arouses suspicion because it is so unusual or different from the norm, then it may need to be investigated further. This relies on staff using their common sense and experience in each individual case.”