MANILA – The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on Friday expressed concern over the surge in suspicious transactions amounting to P3.1 billion as more consumers shift to digital banking due to quarantine restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agency called on banks and other financial institutions to be vigilant as money launderers may be abusing the online platform.
“Proper know-your-customer and customer due diligence procedures must always be conducted, while clients’ risk ratings must be periodically assessed,” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor Benjamin Diokno said in a statement.
“Likewise, online fund transfer service providers are advised to be vigilant especially during the pandemic,” added Diokno, who chairs the AMLC.
Under Republic Act 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 (AMLA), banks, money remittance companies, pawnshops and all other institutions are mandated to implement “know-your-customer” or KYC rules to verify their clients' identity and source of funds.
Customer identification requirements may include name, address, date and place of birth, nature of work and contact numbers.
In its report titled “COVID-19 Financial Crime Trend Analysis and Typologies Brief, Series 2,” the AMLC saw an increase in suspicious transaction reports (STRs), which covers the period from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 this year.
Quarantine restrictions were first imposed in March as COVID-19 started spreading in the country, with people locked down in their homes, spurring more online activity.
Of the dubious deals, the AMLC said the number of STR submissions of electronic money issuers soared by 688 percent while those of pawnshops and money service businesses climbed by 51 percent.
The top reason for STR filing, the agency said, was the unauthorized account access through skimming and phishing, and other violations of the Electronic Commerce Act at 49 percent, with an estimated value of P2.7 billion.
The AMLC also reported STR filing regarding online sexual exploitation of children and related crimes at 13 percent with an estimated value of P84.5 million, and suspected money mules or pass-through accounts at 9 percent with an estimated value of P406.9 million.
Due to the increase in the use of the online and e-money space for money laundering, STRs related to electronic banking transactions grew by 1,680 percent for inward fund transfers and 5,158 percent for outward fund transfers, the agency said.
STRs involving cash-in and -out via electronic cash cards rose by 580 percent and 197 percent, respectively, it added.
“As covered persons become more aware of these information, AMLC expects a continued rise in STR filing,” AMLC said.
“This is crucial in financial intelligence gathering and investigation against money laundering and its predicate crimes; and terrorism and its financing.”
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