Coronavirus Pandemic Fueling Suspicious Transactions in Canada

By Daniel Bethencourt

Canada’s financial intelligence unit received an average of 8,000 suspicious transaction reports, or STRs, per week from April to August of this year, marking a 25 percent jump over the same period in 2019, a senior official said Tuesday.

The increase in STRs coincided with a spike in cyberattacks and online fraud schemes during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Annie Bedard, a senior compliance manager at the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, or Fintrac, said during a question-and-answer session at the ACAMS Virtual Canada Conference.

“Criminals have been exploiting vulnerabilities opened up by the COVID lockdown,” Bedard said.

Fintrac received 34,000 STRs in April and 33,000 in May, up from 29,000 and 27,500 for the same two months last year. STR volumes for June, July and August 2020 were not made available by press time.

Canadian police have also logged more attempts to launder proceeds from illicit online gaming, Gabriel Ngo, a senior advisor to the Finance Department, said during a separate session of the conference on Tuesday.

“It’s still too early to determine how the pandemic is altering the money laundering landscape in the long run,” Ngo said.

Under a rule that came into force in June, banks, casinos, precious metals dealers and other financial institutions in Canada must report suspicious transactions “as soon as practicable” rather than within 30 days as previously required.

Bankers over the past year “have seen the full gamut of things … illegal gambling, human trafficking, COVID-related fraud,” a compliance officer for a Canadian lender told ACAMS

The volume of internal investigations into which transactions truly qualify as suspicious has remained relatively manageable thus far, according to the compliance officer, in part because cash deposits and withdrawals have dropped during the pandemic.

During Tuesday’s question-and-answer session, Bedard, the Fintrac official, also discussed the raft of changes to the country’s anti-money laundering framework finalized last year. Many of the changes take effect next year but a few key reforms, including the stricter timeframe for filing STRs, took effect in June.

As of Sept. 21, at least 370 cryptocurrency dealers have registered with Fintrac pursuant to the new AML framework, said Bedard, who separately noted that the revised STR-filing requirement “does not significantly change reporting entities’ practices.”

The lion’s share of the new framework requires the revision or rewriting of at least 60 pieces of guidance before coming into effect in June of next year, Bedard said. Fintrac has completed around half of the changes and plans to release the updated documents between January and June to help institutions prepare, he said.

Bedard said that Fintrac has scheduled at least 70 desk-based, remote exams of financial institutions since the pandemic began and has no plans to conduct onsite reviews.

Contact Daniel Bethencourt at

Topics : Anti-money laundering , Counterterrorist Financing , Know Your Customer
Source: Canada , Canada: FINTRAC
Document Date: October 20, 2020