Swedish criminal gangs are using Spotify to launder money by engineering artificial hits on songs owned by gang affiliates to receive big payouts from the streaming platform.
The revelation comes from an investigative report by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), which cites a whistleblower who recounted how gangs are exploiting the Swedish streaming giant to convert their dirty cash into legitimate income.
The informant, known by the fake name of Ismet, told SvD how the gangs, swimming in illegal cash generated through drugs, robberies, fraud, and people trafficking, are converting the proceeds of crime into cryptocurrency before paying individuals, whom he referred to as “Telegram bots,” after recruiting them on the encrypted messaging service to set up fake listens on Spotify on tracks under their control.
“We paid people who did this for us systematically,” Ismet explained.
“The bots ensured that we ended up on the top charts, by creating high pressure on a song. When we entered the top charts, we also got real streams,” he added.
The tracks were usually linked to Swedish gangster rap, which experienced a surge in popularity a few years ago and which has a close affiliation with organized crime groups.
One million streams generate around 60,000 Swedish krona which converts to just over €5,000, and Swedish gangster rap is receiving tens of millions of hits via the platform.
Spotify, which is a Swedish company, offers both free and paid-for premium accounts, the latter of which generates more revenue from streams. As such, the Swedish gangs often seek out rap artists to assist with the money laundering exercise while simultaneously boosting their streaming hits, albeit initially artificially, which pushes their content via the algorithm to help reach more genuine users.
Ismet revealed that the promotion of the tracks was not just a money-making exercise but also a useful recruitment tool for influencing impressionable minors who can then be exploited by gangs. He, himself, was recruited as a teenager into Sweden’s notorious underworld, which has been responsible for a growing number of bombings and shootings in Stockholm and across wider Sweden in recent years.
“I don’t want to sell people out, this is very sensitive. It’s about more than buying streams. If you’re a network and you want to attract kids and you have a rapper who’s going big, that’s half the job for you. It is very good for recruiting purposes,” the whistleblower said.
The Swedish newspaper said its report had been confirmed by “four independent sources from the criminal environment.”
In response, Spotify insisted that the company is committed to tackling the problem and has taken down a number of questionable free accounts over suspected illegal activity.
The company added that it “detects and fixes artificial behavior from both free and premium accounts.”
An analyst, referred to as Johan who works for Sweden’s secret National Operations Department (NOA), told SvD that Spotify has “become an ATM” for criminal networks.
“There is a direct connection to the gangs and therefore also to the deadly violence,” he added.