Vigilance urged amid crimes in digital world during lockdown

Vigilance among individuals and businesses alike are greatly needed now especially since criminals continue to become more sophisticated even in the digital world.

In a virtual briefing Friday, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno said this necessity was highlighted in the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s (AMLC) Analysis of Financial Crimes Trends during the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic report.

Based on the report, suspicious transaction reports (STRs) in the first eight months of 2020 rose by 57 percent year-on-year, and 29 percent of these were registered during the lockdown period.

This, as people turn to electronic financial transactions especially when the government placed Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from mid-March to end-April, and extended to end-May for the National Capital Region (NCR).

The government also disbursed its financial aid to affected sectors through electronic means.

However, these transactions do come with risks as cyber criminals continue to learn ways how to bypass regulatory safeguards.

Diokno said the AMLC report showed that about 79 percent of the total STRs from January to August this year are related to fraudulent online activities, child sexual exploitation, and abuse and money mules/pass-through accounts.

STR submissions by electronic money issuers (EMIs) rose by 688 percent, while submissions by pawnshops and money service businesses (MSBs) increased by 51 percent.

For electronic banking transactions, STRs rose by 1,680 percent for inward fund transfers and by 5,158 percent for outward fund transfers.

Those involving cash cards rose by 580 percent for cash-in and 197 percent for cash-out

Diokno said among the reasons for the STR filing are unauthorized account access through skimming and phishing.

For these violations alone, the amount involved in the STR reports reached around PHP2.7 billion.

An estimated value of PHP84.5 million was reported in relation to suspected online sexual exploitation of children and related crimes.

Also, reports about money mules or pass-through accounts reached an estimated amount of PHP406.9 million.

The AMLC is seeking several amendments on the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) in a bid to prevent the country from being included in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list.

FATF has recommended several measures to improve the country’s anti-money laundering measures and the observation period will end by February 1, 2021. This was originally set to end in October this year but was extended as a result of the pandemic.

Diokno said several bills are pending in Congress and he is hopeful that lawmakers will recognize the importance of these bills to save the country from being re-included in the gray list, which is an indication of lack of policies and regulations against money laundering.

“We remain optimistic that gray listing can be averted as no less than the President himself has certified the bills as priority over other bills,” he added. (PNA)

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