A recent exposé by a Swedish newspaper has reported that criminal organisations are exploiting fake Spotify streams as a means to launder money.
According to the Svenska Dagbladet report, criminal gangs in Sweden are allegedly using the popular music streaming platform to legitimise funds acquired through illegal activities such as drug trafficking and contract killings.
The modus operandi outlined in the investigation suggests that criminals convert their ill-gotten gains into Bitcoin before funnelling the funds into purchasing false Spotify streams for songs associated with artists having connections to the criminal networks.
By doing so, they reportedly launder their money through the payouts received from the streaming platform.
The report asserts that the method has been prevalent in Sweden’s criminal underworld since 2019, with certain gangs implicated in violent incidents, including bombings and shootings in the Scandinavian nation.
An anonymous gang member confirmed the widespread use of the technique, stating: “I can say with 100% certainty that this goes on. I have been involved in it myself.”
An investigative police officer, quoted in the report, said they notified Spotify about this criminal activity in 2021 but allegedly received no response.
The officer remarked: “Spotify has become a bank machine for the gangs.”
In response to the allegations, Spotify, when approached by the French AFP, asserted its lack of awareness regarding any communication from the police and stated that it had not discovered “any data or hard evidence that indicates that the platform is being used at scale in the fashion described“.
It is unclear how the artists making use of fake streams are evading Spotify’s detection.
Spotify detects inauthentic streams by looking at the kinds of users doing the streaming, and the pattern of stream activity for each artist.
With Spotify paying out artists between $0.003 (56 cents) to $0.005 a stream, criminals would need to be buying a significant amount of fake streams between multiple artists in order to launder any serious amount of money.
Browning is a freelance tech writer and music journalist.