Banks learn to help spot human trafficking

By Jodi Schwan

Banks can play a powerful role in stopping human trafficking – if employees know how to recognize signs that it could be occurring.

“There are different transactions you could be watching that are tied to trafficking or fraud,” said Polly Dean, co-founder of the nonprofit The New Colossus, which helps raise awareness of human trafficking.

“There’s a whole bunch of red flags.”

Dean and her organization have started educating lenders about how to recognize potentially suspicious transactions.

She and co-founder Ashley Statema recently presented to a group of about 70 employees at MetaBank. The bank collects employee donations for different nonprofits monthly in return for wearing jeans to work. Earlier this year, The New Colossus received a $2,800 donation, and Meta’s corporate communications director Katie LeBrun started looking for other ways to bring exposure to the nonprofit’s work.

“I think we’re in a unique position to really help people,” she said. “There’s potential to spot human trafficking and potentially intervene.”

Dean agreed. Here’s a list of potentially suspicious transaction traits she shared with the bank.

“There’s a lot of researching being done (on suspicious financial transactions). There’s so many different pieces to trafficking and the world around it, that they’re starting to tackle it from all angles,” Dean said. “A lot of the work with banking and finance is being developed now – how we can track and monitor spending habits.”

Ashley Statema speaks to employees at MetaBank.

Once conversation started at Meta, bank staff started thinking of more potential warning signs, Dean said. There’s also a process in place for reporting suspicious activity.

The New Colossus plans to return to continue the conversation at a department level.

“It was very eye-opening for our employees,” LeBrun said. “People knew it happened here but didn’t realize it was also happening at the grocery store, for example. In terms of personal awareness, I think employees are more attuned to be aware of signs of human trafficking. And the more awareness you have, the better chance of having someone who could intervene.”

The New Colossus can tailor presentations to industries, Dean said. She generally gives basic information about human trafficking that can apply to anyone but has customized information for property managers, teachers and first responders.

She’s hoping to reach more employees in the hospitality industry.

“Even though we tailor it to your job, you need to know it as a general community member,” she said. “You’re going to come in contact with it throughout your daily life, not just your workday.”

To reach The New Colossus, email or call 605-321-6321.

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Banks learn to help spot human trafficking

Banks can play a powerful role in stopping human trafficking – if employees know how to recognize signs that it could be occurring.

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