Bitcoin ‘Suspicious Activity’ on the Rise, FinCEN Reports

  • JJ Hornblass
  • July 22, 2014
  • 1

canstockphoto13718735It turns out bitcoin is generating suspicious financial activity, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, better known as FinCEN.

Try to contain your shock.

FinCEN for the first time last week released what it calls SAR Stats, a monthly report that documents trends in suspicious activity report filings (and presumably aiming to make bankers feel like the herculean effort of doing FinCEN’s work for it is somehow justified). Lo and behold, bitcoin featured prominently in the report.

Total SAR reports numbered about 1.6 million last year, a 3.3% jump compared to the previous year, FinCEN disclosed. More of those SAR filings centered on bitcoin transactions, apparently. From the FinCEN report:

The same attributes of virtual currencies that attract lawful users, such as the capacity for anonymity as well as their speed and global reach, attract criminal actors engaged in illicit financing. FinCEN is observing a rise in the number of SARs flagging virtual currencies as a component of suspicious activity.

FinCEN did not disclose specific numbers for bitcoin-related SARs, and while we can’t imagine the number is significant, it is noteworthy that bitcoin has hit FinCEN’s radar. The upshot of FinCEN’s report is that the enforcement agency is expecting a spike in illicit virtual currency activity, apparently even though legislators of various ilks are regulating out the anonymity features of virtual currencies.

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It should be noted that the FinCEN report on SARs last week disclosed that the agency has 94 teams of SAR reviewers scattered across the country, and that those teams reviewed “a total of over 180,000 SARs” in 2013. Which means about 1.4 million of the 1.6 million SARs filed in 2013 were not touched by regulators. That should make all you bank compliance officers out there extremely happy.

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JJ started the first iteration of Bank Innovation back in 2007, and has been working on it ever since. He also serves as President & Chief Executive Officer of Royal Media, Bank Innovation’s parent. He founded Royal in 1995 and oversees all aspects of the New York-based diversified media company. Prior to forming Royal, JJ was on the editorial staff of American Banker, the daily newspaper, and worked as an editor of a business magazine in Hong Kong. As a reporter and editor, he has won journalism awards from the National Press Foundation, Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Foundation, and the Reader’s Digest Foundation. He has a BS in Economics from Yeshiva University and a Master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was also a Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School of Banking. He lives in New York City with his wife, two daughters, and son. He counts among his accomplishments one New York City Marathon, two New York City Triathlons and the 2010 Father’s Day 5K, the first race he ever ran with his daughters. He can be reached at or 212-564-8972.

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