Anthropogenic land use has irrevocably transformed the natural systems on which humankind relies. Advances in remote sensing have led to an improved understanding of where, why and how social and economic processes drive globally important land-use changes, from deforestation to urbanization. The role of illicit activities, however, is often absent in land change analysis. The paucity of data on unrecorded, intentionally hidden transactions makes them difficult to incorporate into spatially specific analyses of land change. We present a conceptual framework of illicit land transactions and a two-pronged approach using remotely sensed data to spatially link illicit activities to land uses.