Money laundering and terrorist financing indicators—Virtual currency transactions

December 2020

This guidance on suspicious transactions is applicable to all reporting entities (REs) that are subject to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (PCMLTFA) and associated Regulations. It is recommended that this guidance be read in conjunction with other suspicious transaction report (STR) guidance, including:

FINTRAC has also published operational alerts and briefs – strategic intelligence products – that provide insight into the nature, scope and threats posed by ML/TF. These briefs and alerts contain additional ML/TF indicators, which include:

Money laundering (ML) and terrorist activity financing (TF) indicators are potential red flags that could initiate suspicion or indicate that something may be unusual in the absence of a reasonable explanation. Red flags typically stem from one or more factual characteristics, behaviours, patterns or other contextual factors that identify irregularities related to financial transactions or attempted transactions. These often present inconsistencies with what is expected of your client based on what you know about them.

The ML/TF indicators in this guidance were developed by FINTRAC through a review of ML/TF cases, a review of high quality STRs, published literature by industry and international organizations such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Egmont Group, and consultation with select RE sectors. These ML/TF indicators do not cover every possible situation but were developed to provide you with a general understanding of what is or could be unusual or suspicious. On its own, a single ML/TF indicator may not appear suspicious. However, observing an ML/TF indicator(s) could lead you to conduct an assessment of the transaction(s) to determine whether there are further facts, contextual elements or additional ML/TF indicators that assist in establishing reasonable grounds to suspect the commission or attempted commission of an ML/TF offence, which requires the submission of an STR.

Criminal organizations often combine various methods in different ways in order to avoid the detection of ML/TF. If you detect unusual or suspicious behaviour or a transaction that prompts the need for an assessment, ML/TF indicators combined with facts and context can help you determine if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction is related to the commission or attempted commission of an ML/TF offence. These ML/TF indicators may also be used to explain or articulate the rationale for your reasonable grounds to suspect in the narrative portion of an STR, as they provide valuable information from a financial intelligence perspective.

Important considerations

One piece of the puzzle

The ML/TF indicators in this guidance are not an exhaustive list of ML/TF indicators to support all suspicious scenarios. These ML/TF indicators should be considered as examples to guide the development of your own process to determine when you have reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction or attempted transaction is related to the commission or attempted commission of an ML/TF offence. These ML/TF indicators are one piece of the puzzle and are designed to complement your own STR process and can be used in conjunction with other publicly available ML/TF indicators.

During an assessment, FINTRAC will review your compliance policies and procedures to see how you use ML/TF indicators within your STR process. Part of the assessment will include evaluating how the actual policies follow your documented approach and determining its effectiveness with respect to the use of ML/TF indicators. This can include a review of transactions to determine how your STR process identifies potential STRs and assesses them using facts, context and ML/TF indicators. For example, you may be asked to provide an explanation if you have not reported an STR for a client you have assessed as high-risk and that client activity also matches against multiple ML/TF indicators.

Combination of facts, context and ML/TF indicators

If the context surrounding a transaction is suspicious, it could lead you to assess a client's financial transactions. Facts, context and ML/TF indicators need to be assessed to determine whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the transaction is related to the commission or attempted commission of an ML/TF offence. On its own, a single financial transaction or ML/TF indicator may not appear suspicious. However, this does not mean you should stop your assessment. Additional facts or context about the associated person or their actions may help you reach the reasonable grounds to suspect threshold.

Alert or triggering system

FINTRAC acknowledges that an RE may have developed a system that relies on specific alerts or triggering events to signal when to assess a transaction to determine if an STR should be submitted to FINTRAC. If you rely on such a system, FINTRAC expects that you review the alerts in a timely manner in order to determine if an STR should be submitted. Regardless of how you choose to operationalize these ML/TF indicators, FINTRAC expects that you will be able to demonstrate that you have an effective process to identify, assess and submit STRs to FINTRAC.

Virtual Currency (VC) ML/TF indicators

The ML/TF indicators in the following section are applicable to both suspected ML  and/or TF. The ability to detect, prevent and deter ML and/or TF begins with properly identifying the person or entity in order to review and report suspicious financial activity.

You may observe these ML/TF indicators over the course of your business activities with a client. It is important to note that depending on your business activities, some of these ML/TF indicators may not apply.

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