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Suspicious transactions continue to rise

Suspicious transaction reports (STRs) edged up in the first eight months of the year fueled by the rise of phishing schemes and increased payments related to child pornography, the central bank chief said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor and Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Chairman Benjamin E. Diokno said an AMLC study found the number of STRs climbed 57% year on year in the first eight months of 2020.

“Of the total number, only 29%, however, occurred during the lockdown period,” he said in an online briefing on Friday.

STRS are filed by financial institutions whenever there are transactions suspected of money laundering or fraud.

Nearly half (49%) of the STR filings during the period were related to skimming and phishing, with an estimated value of P2.7 billion.

Meanwhile, 13% of STRs were transactions related to online sexual exploitation of children, with an estimated value of P84.5 million.

Transactions involving money mules or pass-through account with an estimated value of P406.9 million made up 9% of the STRs during the period.

“AMLC underscores the need for covered persons to remain cautious as money launderers and other criminals may be abusing digital platforms, which have been largely adopted due to the pandemic,” Mr. Diokno said

Based on the report, STRs linked to electronic banking transactions surged 1,680% for inward fund transfers and by 5,158% for outward fund transfers.

Cash-in and cash-out transactions done through electronic cash cards that were filed as STRs also significantly jumped 580% and 197%, respectively.

STRs submitted by electronic money issuers as well as pawnshops and money service businesses also climbed 688% and 51%, respectively.

“Proper know-your-customer/customer due diligence procedures must always be conducted. Clients’ risk ratings must be periodically assessed in view of irregular and questionable financial transactions,” Mr. Diokno said.

The AMLC study found that there has been a rising trend of fraudsters pretending to be affiliated with government units in order to solicit donations related to the coronavirus pandemic. There were also incidents of online shopping fraud schemes involving Bitcoin.

“Electronic money issuers, money service businesses, and other online fund transfer service providers are advised to be vigilant amid a surge in STRs related to online activities,” Mr. Diokno said. — Luz Wendy T. Noble

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