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  • J Markezic and M Bacina

AUSTRAC issues guides to thwarting crypto-crime

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) has issued two new regulatory guides for businesses when dealing in, and assessing, perceived risks and expectations around crypto-assets.

AUSTRAC’s primary purpose is to monitor and regulate financial crimes, and has historically has placed an emphasis on possible use of crypto for criminal acts.

Nicole Rose, AUSTRAC CEO, recently said in a statement:

Financial service providers need to be alert to the signs of criminal use of digital currencies, including their use in ransomware attacks…

The Preventing the Criminal Abuse of Digital Currencies guide provides financial indicators to help businesses, including digital currency exchange providers, recognise and report criminal activity involving digital currencies.

According to AUSTRAC:

Criminals are attempting to take advantage of the rapid take-up of digital currencies to commit crimes and hide from law enforcement. The pseudo-anonymous and borderless nature of digital currencies can make them a risk for criminal activity including money laundering, terrorism financing, ransomware and more.

The Detecting and Stopping Ransomware guide includes practical information and key indicators to help businesses understand, identify and report suspicious activity where a transaction participant could be the target of a ransomware payment, or trying to profit from a ransomware payment.

The AUSTRAC guides follow the Senate Select Committee on Australia as a Technology and Financial Centre Final Report which considered the issue of de-banking of crypto businesses who were seeing unexplained account closures on a regular basis by major banks, despite robust AML/CTF compliance and little to no criminal activity issues.

In the Digital Currency Guide guide, AUSTRAC states:

De-banking legitimate and lawful businesses can negatively impact individuals and businesses. It can also increase the risks of money laundering and terrorism financing and negatively impacts Australia’s economy.

Given anti-tipping off provisions prevent banks from (or some would say permit banks to not) disclose why an account is being closed, AUSTRAC’s comments and these guides are a positive step towards educating traditional finance (known as TradFi in crypto circles) in how little criminal activity occurs in crypto business, which Chainalysis measured at 0.14% of transaction volume. Secure and reliable banking will remain an important part of most crypto businesses needs as we continue to see the growth of this exciting technology.


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