© Lucas Jackson / Reuters

A recent investigative report in a Swedish newspaper claims that criminal networks in the country have been utilizing a complex money laundering scheme involving fake Spotify streams. According to anonymous sources within these criminal groups as well as a police investigator, illicit cash from activities like drug dealing, robbery, and contract killings has been converted to bitcoin. This cryptocurrency is then used to pay individuals to generate massive amounts of fake listens on the music streaming platform for songs by artists affiliated with the criminal networks.

The people interviewed described a systematic process where dirty money is first made digitally through Bitcoin. Those crypto assets are then distributed to others who take on the job of artificially inflating play counts on Spotify. Their efforts have seemingly helped push certain music to the top of the charts. More streams directly correlate to higher payouts from Spotify to the record labels and artists. It’s estimated that amassing one million streams can result in a payout of 40,000 to 60,000 Swedish króna.

This alleged scheme provides a way for criminal profits to be cleaned and paid out through a legitimate company. One gang member stated they began exploiting this loophole in 2019 as Swedish gangster rap rose to prominence. Both real and fake streams continue to drive revenue upwards. However, Spotify claims manipulated streams make up less than 1% of their total, and any detected are prevented from resulting in payouts. Still, law enforcement believes the platform has unwittingly financed deadly street violence plaguing Sweden in recent times. If proven, it would show how modern technology is being misused to facilitate old crimes in new ways.

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