For most people, your name is one of the purest, and easiest, summations of your identity. For those in the business of screening identity data against compliance intelligence information, a name may be the best tool you have to track and prosecute fraudsters around the globe. However, things get complex when you consider the multitude of countries and organizations developing sanction lists using their language’s translations of names.
When dealing with names, anti-fraud professionals must think both about the source language and the language it is being transcribed into. Would a name that originally is written in Russian Cyrillic characters and placed on an Egyptian watch list have the same sound and root name if then translated into English or French? Victoria Meyer, CFE, ACCA, Director of the Swiss Business Academy, discussed this potential problem during her session, “Linguistic Identity Matching” at the 27th Annual ACFE Global Fraud Conference.
“These are all different things you need to take into account to see ‘is this name a match or not?’” she said. “The pronunciation in the different countries is different, so you get different end translations.”
Showing the example of the name, عبد الرحمن حسين , she explained that it has more than five different potential English translations depending on what nationality the Arabic characters are first being translated into Latin characters from. If that name was translated from Yemeni Arabic into English, the translation would be “Abdirahman Hussein (Cabdiraxmaan Xuseen).” If translated from Pakastani Arabic into English, the name would be “Abdur Rehman Hussain.” While these might not be entirely dissimilar, a software program designed to match lists would likely not be able to match them.
Similarly, the same root name in a specific language could translate to different outputs in different languages. Former President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin’s full name is originally written Борис Николаевич Ельцин. However, in French it is translated to Boris Nikolaïevitch Eltsine. In Spanish, it is Boris Nicoláievitch Iéltsin.
The largest takeaway that professionals operating in the multinational sanctions realm need to realize is that to perfect their linguistic identity matching software and processes they must educate themselves on the linguistic patterns and customs of all countries they deal with. For counterterrorism experts, French and German translations of names are starting to come into play more as many refugees have been moving to areas in those countries, and the law enforcement and terrorism authorities are creating watch lists in their language.
When practicing linguistic identity matching, the onus falls on the fraud examiner to ensure the accuracy of any type of matching software their organization might be using. “This is your risk tolerance you’re setting. It’s not fair to delegate it to someone in IT,” said Meyer. She said that someone well-versed in code and computer patterns, but not familiar with many nuances of international linguistics, would not be able to effectively create a software matching system unless given the patterns and specific triggers to look for from a linguistic professional.
Ultimately, anti-fraud professionals need to be the ones leading the charge in reforming and perfecting multinational linguistics identity matching. Meyer explained that currently, the vendors touting identity matching systems have said, “We know our searches are rubbish, but no one expects any better, so it’s fine.” With the fight against fraud becoming undeniably global in nature, it is more important than ever for fraud examiners to look outside of their own language borders.