Three stuffed money bags

Covid-19 is creating new challenges — and opportunities — for white-collar criminals, according to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC).

In a special bulletin on pandemic-related fraud and money laundering trends, the agency said that, while it’s too early to determine precisely how the pandemic will alter the money-laundering landscape, “the Covid-19 crisis has important implications for organized crime by creating significant new or expanded opportunities for the perpetration of fraud.”

FINTRAC noted that criminals may have lost access to some of their traditional money-laundering methods — particularly schemes that rely on funnelling illicit cash through cash-intensive businesses — due to lockdowns and physical distancing requirements.

For instance, FINTRAC noted that, while the pandemic has not had a significant impact on the overall volume of suspicious transaction reports, casino disbursement reports and large cash transaction reports have dropped significantly since March.

As a result, criminals may be seeking alternative ways to bring illicit money into the legitimate financial system, FINTRAC said.

At the same time, the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic have altered traditional transaction patterns, creating cover for criminal activity.

“While many atypical patterns may reflect legitimate needs to access financial services during this challenging time, some individuals may attempt to profit from the current situation to undertake or facilitate money laundering,” FINTRAC said.

FINTRAC also said that its analysis of Covid-19–related transaction reporting and fraud reporting from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) found that the pandemic “has created new opportunities for criminals in the virtual currency space in Canada and internationally.”

Additionally, the increased use of online services during the pandemic has heightened the risk of cybercrime, such as phishing and blackmail scams.

“As the pandemic continues, the CAFC expects that it is likely that the financial hardship faced by Canadian citizens and businesses will result in more victimization,” the bulletin said.

“Loan scams, debt consolidation frauds, and investment fraud will likely increase,” FINTRAC noted. “Additionally, cyber dependent frauds such as spear phishing, ransomware and phishing campaigns that are taking advantage of the increased online activities of Canadians, are also likely to increase.”