News & Press: ACFCS News

Special Contributor Report: News, news and more (fake) news – Vetting online news sources

Thursday, June 22, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brian Monroe
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By Brian Monroe
June 22, 2017

The issue of “fake news” is getting a lot of attention right now. But researching, culling and distilling information down to its essence, to winnow out truth, is the stock-and-trade of the financial crime compliance officer. That is something Chris Focacci, the chief information officer of Transparint, knows quite a bit about.

He is a former compliance officer for large banks and his company’s goal is to help institutions get better information to determine financial crime risks. He recently wrote an article with tips and tactics to better glean when news is factually flawed, and also shared some other ideas with ACFCS.

Focacci stated that critical to better understanding and uncovering fake news – beyond engaging the basics, such as seeing if the story is published by other reputable, balanced sites – is to realize the breadth of regional and contextual differences that can be at play in certain jurisdictions.

“If a report is published in Russia or China, for instance, it might be total government propaganda, or be completely slanted for political purposes,” he said. “But if you are not familiar with the country, you may not know that and have that context” that these jurisdictions are tightly government controlled and also corruption-prone.

“The crux of the issue is not just finding out if what you are reading is fake news, that is just one part of the problem,” Focacci said. “The question is how do you determine the reliability of sources when doing investigations and research.”

That is a growing challenge for anti-money laundering (AML) compliance professionals because there is more fake news out in the ether of the Internet, just as there is more information overall on nearly every topic on the web.

“The biggest thing is to try to corroborate the story somewhere else,” Focacci said. “But that doesn’t always work because you might find another site or source that is just as questionable as the first sources. Try to find the story on a site you trust,” such as major news organizations, including the New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal or Associated Press.

Other things to look for to determine credibility of a site are things like how long the site has been up, how many visitors does it average and even the language it uses – does the site use hyperbole, drama and fonts that foster fear-mongering.

In a strange twist, some compliance officers may need to even read and catalogue fake news stories to ensure there are no tendrils to the bank, and also to ensure a bank examiner can’t find the story and play gotcha, he said. “It might not be true, but it still might be a relevant piece of information from the regulator’s perspective,” Focacci said.

Conversely, though, it’s not always sites with the biggest presence and visitors that may be truthful, he said.

For instance, in some Latin American countries, it’s only small, whistleblower-type sites that are brave enough to speak out against repressive or corrupt regimes, releasing details, documents and stories that are altogether authoritative, Focacci said.

He recalls one instance where, during a compliance assignment at a bank, his team was able to match up details from a small anti-government site with actual transactions in the bank tied to a government figure suspected of abusing his power.

“It was kind of incredible because the little site was right on the money, and even led us to other people to review,” he said.

Here is Focacci’s story. Originally published here. Reprinted with appreciation and permission. 


By Chris Focacci
Chief Information Officer for TransparINT
An AML compliance technology provider

The amount of digital information available to us at all times is continually increasing, and it is not all Pulitzer worthy.

It is almost impossible to watch cable news and not hear about fake news.  Often a hyper-political term that is interpreted different ways, actual fake news describes stories presented as true, but have no basis in fact.  There is no “spin” or subjectivity component; the stories are provably false.

As recently highlighted in, fake news can add additional challenges to the already complex role of compliance professionals.  Fake news stories are often negative in nature, and identifying negative news is a critical element for investigators and compliance officers.

Not a New Problem

While the term “fake news” has recently gained a lot of attention, the task of vetting the reliability of news and Internet sources has been part of the daily job of analysts for years.  During the course of any investigation, an investigator is faced with the task of determining whether information is found on a subject of interest.  Is the source a reputable newspaper or media outlet? A displeased client posting on a consumer complaints board?  These are the types of decisions analysts make whether they realize it or not.

While completely nonfactual news does add an additional wrinkle to source vetting, the process of vetting the credibility of a news source remains relatively unchanged.

Determining the Reliability of a Website

A useful resource for vetting source reliability is Northern Michigan University’s guide to Evaluating Internet Sources.  This website provides a handy resource that outlines the below six elements to consider when evaluating a website for its reliability of information.


Is it clear who is responsible for the contents of the page?

Is there a way of verifying the legitimacy of the organization, group, company or individual?

Is there any indication of the author’s qualifications for writing on a particular topic?

Is the information from sources known to be reliable?


Are the sources for factual information clearly listed so they can be verified in another source?

Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other typographical errors?


Does the content appear to contain any evidence of bias?

Is there a link to a page describing the goals or purpose of the sponsoring organization or company?

If there is any advertising on the page, is it clearly differentiated from the informational content?


Are there dates on the page to indicate when the page was written, when the page was first placed on the Web, or when the page was last revised?


Are these topics successfully addressed, with clearly presented arguments and adequate support to substantiate them?

Does the work update other sources, substantiate other materials you have read, or add new information?

Is the target audience identified and appropriate for your needs?

Overall Appearance

Does the site look well organized?

Do the links work?

Does the site appear well maintained?

Not mentioned, but inherent in all of these elements, is the requirement for internal judgment, experience, and common sense.

Technology to the Rescue!

Many large Internet companies, like Google and Facebook, have undertaken efforts to reduce fake news (which Facebook defines as “clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain”) in their products.   While one would think that these companies would implement the latest machine learning or artificial intelligence technology to easily root out the problem, it seems the most effective approaches have been providing tools that allow users to flag potentially false stories, and the use of human curators to review stories and sources.

From an investigative resource perspective, other websites have attempted to provide a solution in the form of “fake news checkers.”   Sites like Media Bias Fact Check attempt to not only identify sources associated with the publishing of fake news, but also seek to identify bias in news sources along the political spectrum using the following methodology.  This can be a very useful tool if you are unfamiliar with a website that may have a strong political leaning.

Sites like Fake News Checker aggregate fake news lists from different sources and combine that with Alexa information to provide some additional insight into the website’s visitor traffic information.

While the above sources can be helpful, it is extremely important to emphasize that the authors and groups who categorize websites should not be immune from the same analysis as outlined above.


While there has been an increase in the prevalence of completely nonfactual news, the techniques used to verify credible information online remain relatively unchanged.  The ever increasing amount of digital information will continue to generate new and evolving issues, but having access to this information is a net benefit to compliance, AML, and investigative professionals.

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