Anti-money laundering body reports more suspicious transactions during COVID-19 pandemic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 11) -- Make sure that the online transaction platforms you're using are not also being devised by somebody else to commit fraudulent activities.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) noticed a rising number in suspicious transaction reports (STRs) this year in the time of COVID-19 pandemic.

AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela said the number of STRs since January up to now is at around 400,000, the same number for the entire 2019.

"So yes, it has been increasing and the usage of suspicious transaction reports is not a good indication if whether or not these are useful to us," Racela told reporters during the virtual presser hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Racela, however, noted that not all the STRs can be considered as related to any unlawful activity especially if the crime was not properly identified.

He explained misinformation found in identification documents presented to a financial entity can be considered an STR but not necessarily a crime.

"So the number is not indicative of any increasing number of crimes also in the Philippines but the AMLC has continuously conducted a study on the STRs," Racela added.

The AMLC chief also reminded the so-called covered persons to be careful when using online transaction platforms.

Among the covered persons are those working in banks, insurance companies, pawnshops, foreign exchange firms, among many others.

For the full list of covered persons, you may visit this section of the AMLC website:

AMLC urges Congress to pass much needed AMLA amendments

The AMLC, meanwhile, urged the Congress to immediately pass certain amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.

Among these are including tax crimes as predicate crimes to money laundering, and listing real estate developers and brokers as part of covered persons.

Racela also wanted the Congress to expand AMLC's powers which includes issuing a subpoena and invoking contempt powers.

"Failure to pass and to implement the amendments to the AMLA before February 2021 will have similar effects that is the Philippines' inclusion to the Financial Action Task Force - International Cooperation Review Group Gray List," Racela warned.

The FATF-ICRG Gray List is composed of nations considered to be high-risk when it comes into money laundering.

He said this will result into more layers of scrutiny from regulators and financial institutions in other countries.

Racela fears this may also increase the cost of doing business with Filipinos and block the country's chances to an A credit rating.