Bitcoin ‘Suspicious Activity’ on the Rise, FinCEN Reports

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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