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New FinCEN SAR Stats tackles bitcoin risk
WASHINGTON (7/21/14)--The U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has released the inaugural SAR Stats technical bulletin, which examines data from Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions. The bulletin is a successor publication to The SAR Activity Review: By the Numbers, which was issued once or twice a year starting in 2003.

The July issue features data from more than 1.3 million  SARs filed from March to December 2013. This data is used for law enforcement investigations and regulatory compliance at the state and federal levels, as part of a larger set of data pertaining to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).

"In the first six months of 2014 alone, over 350 unique agencies representing a broad cross section of federal, state, and local law enforcement, regulators, self-regulated organizations and state attorney offices operating nationwide accessed Bank Secrecy Act data via FinCEN's portal," the report reads. "Thousands of agents, analysts and investigative personnel from each of these entities have conducted in excess of one million queries against the database during that period."

The SAR Narrative Spotlight this month examines bitcoin, a type of virtual currency. Because bitcoin isn't overseen by a central authority, its anonymous nature makes possible illegal activities harder to detect.

The bulletin notes that while bitcoin is a virtual currency, financial institutions of all types can play a role in the life cycle of the purchase, use and sale of bitcoin for standard currencies.

"This may include depository institutions that house the accounts of virtual currency users, administrators and exchangers; additionally, depending on the transaction, correspondent banks may also be involved," the report reads. "Each institution has a unique vantage point from which to observe these transactions and identify suspicious activity."

This puts financial institutions in position to observe everything from bitcoin dealers who may be acting as unregistered money service businesses to funds stolen from compromised accounts that are being converted into bitcoin.

"Altogether, SARs filed by the various filing entities may provide valuable information related to accounts, ownership, and other identifying information, and bitcoin addresses associated with suspicious activity," the report reads.

The Credit Union National Administration will host a BSA conference Oct. 26-29 in Las Vegas. The annual conference will bring together BSA compliance officers, state and federal examiners, industry experts and regulators to discuss BSA compliance issues. 

Throughout the four days of session, FinCEN, the National Credit Union Administration and the Office of Foreign Assets Control will provide the latest information relevant to credit unions.

Use the resource links below for more information.

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