Number of suspected money laundering cases increased by 19 percent

Number of suspected money laundering cases increased by 19 percent
Number of suspected money laundering cases increased by 19 percent

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The increasing trend towards cybercrime is also reflected here, stressed Manuel Scherscher, head of the Economic Crime Department at the Federal Criminal Police Office, during a background discussion on the occasion of the 2023 Money Laundering Report published on Thursday. Around 34 percent of the reports could be attributed to fraud offenses.

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This is because these are often the reason for money laundering, says the senior official. “We are talking here primarily about internet fraud: phishing attacks, daughter-son fraud,” says Scherscher. So-called “money mules” often provide the police with such suspicions. “These are private individuals who make their accounts available for a small amount so that other people’s money can be transferred through them.” They usually pretend to be ignorant and naive. However, the same people also act as “cash donkeys” for criminals again and again. The consequence: “They impose penalties.”

6482 reports from banks

In 2023, 6,482 suspicious activity reports came from banks, followed by 1,021 reports from service providers in the field of virtual currencies or crypto exchangers. However, the police expect an increase in reports from the crypto sector in the future. The remaining shares came from gambling providers, lawyers, notaries, insurance companies, tax consultants or other professional groups. In this context, Scherscher and his colleague Louis Verdier, head of the Money Laundering Reporting Office at the Federal Criminal Police Office, emphasized the importance of raising awareness among “partners” in the private sector and of exchanging information with companies. “Because that is the only way we get the information and the tips,” said Verdier.

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He illustrated this situation on Thursday by describing the “Fin-Link” case. Last year, Verdier said, a criminal group sent “a mass of text messages” under the guise of the tax office. The text messages tricked the recipients into believing that a hefty tax payment was outstanding and that failure to pay would result in seizure by a bailiff. However, this mass phenomenon was detected by the police in time. “If we can communicate directly with the banks, including through very specific warnings, then they can set up the controls in their monitoring systems so that such transfers are noticed,” he said. “We then managed to stop 340,000 to 360,000 euros because the banks had recognized that one of their customers was trying to transfer money.”

Banks’ audit procedures under scrutiny

However, another phenomenon also kept criminal investigators busy last year. “From 2023 onwards, we noticed very clearly that more and more Austrians are confronted with accounts in their name that they never opened,” said the money laundering expert. It was quickly recognized that this trend was related to the possibility of opening an account on the Internet. Nowadays, there are numerous ways to create deceptively real ID cards and passports online, but in return, online identification is inadequate at many banks. “We discovered that when opening accounts online in Austria, it seems that not only the ID card has to be shown to the camera. It is enough to submit a copy of your passport as a PDF file during the identification process,” said Verdier. The Financial Market Authority is therefore currently also taking a close look at the testing procedures of numerous banks.

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