September 8, 2023
Music Industry

Can you launder criminal money using Spotify? Turns out you can.

I’m always fascinated by the ways people to game the system when it comes to music streaming. But using the platform for money laundering? That’s a new one.

According to a Swedish news report (it’s in Swedish, but the translation is “Spotify has become an ATM for criminals” and details how this version of money laundering works.

  • Step one: Commit crimes (drug deals, robberies, bombings, even assassination missions) that result in cash payments.
  • Step two: Convert that cash into Bitcoin or other crypto.
  • Step three: Using that crypto, the criminals secure the rights to (or at least have an interest in) streams of songs and podcasts. The creators of those streams have gang connections. Many are part of Sweden’s gangsta rap scene who are only too happy to have a leg up on success.
  • Step four: Use the money they stole to pay for those fraudulent streams.
  • Step five: Goose those streams (for example, having multiple devices stream those songs on repeat with the volume turned down). The songs rise up the charts and sucker the algorithms into pushing them to unsuspecting Spotify listeners which boost the fake streams even further. More streams equals higher payouts.
  • Step six: Spotify pays out royalties to the gangs as clean money.

I quote from the story: “Spotify has become a bank machine for the gangs. There’s a direct link to the gangs and the deadly violence.” The reporters got the scoop from at least three gang members who are involved in these schemes. They also got corroboration from a cop who’s been investigating the matter.

Spotify denies everything. They do admit that fraudulent streams are an industry-wide problem but that money laundering isn’t part of that. “[L]ss than one percent of all streams on Spotify have been determined to be artificial and those are promptly mitigated prior to any payouts.”

Meanwhile, one study shows that about 3% of all streams on platforms are fraudulent. Hip-hop artists make up almost 85% of all the fake streams.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37015 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Can you launder criminal money using Spotify? Turns out you can.

  • Artists can’t make money but a few criminals can find ways to reap rewards.
    How many artists are cheating tSpotify with this same thing if it’s so effective?


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