Like many other organisations, AUSTRAC and the alliance were forced to pivot earlier this year after COVID-19 struck, as criminals looked to exploit the disruption and take advantage of government support payments.
“Fintel Alliance is committed to combating and disrupting this criminal behaviour to protect the Australian community,” Ms Rose said.
Many of the group’s achievements are presented in the alliance’s annual report which was released on Friday. It provides details in case studies that feature everything from run-of-the-mill scams to massive money-laundering operations and sickening sex offences.
Unorthodox stores of value
The group has also signalled that a new risk assessment of Australian casinos will arrive alongside forthcoming risk assessments on gambling junket operators and the gold bullion industry, as foreshadowed by The Australian Financial Review last week.
The annual report provides information about the growing attraction of gold bullion and other unorthodox stores of value such as bitcoin that crooks are turning to in order to move the proceeds of crime in a world where cash can attract attention.
In one West Australian case, the group supported an investigation into an attempt by a criminal syndicate to launder $5.4 million through Perth’s ATMs in just six weeks. The alliance provided police with predictive analysis to pick out hot spots where the offenders could be identified.
“The offending included 1879 cash deposits into 167 different bank accounts with 87 deposits recorded on a single day at ATMs in Perth totalling $193,500,” the report says. The partnership helped WA Police arrest five individuals to begin with, and they also seized drugs, firearms and $4 million in cash.
In another operation, global payments company Paypal, NSW Police and the alliance produced financial data and other indicators that signalled the purchase of a child-like sex doll. A man from South Australia was the first in the country to be charged by the federal police with possession of a child-like sex doll.
The Fintel Alliance says the operation has contributed to 20 different but related intelligence operations and the arrest of four Australians for similar offences.
“A number of individuals in Australia were identified and arrested who were not previously known for offending against children,” the report says.
Child exploitation offences
The group’s achievements in stamping out child exploitation offences are well highlighted, including the purchase and distribution of child exploitation material that was thrust into the spotlight following the news in 2019 that Westpac had failed to report the actions of 284 customers and suspected paedophiles.
In the month that followed the landmark action, which was settled for $1.3 billion this year, AUSTRAC received more than 740 suspicious matter reports as regulated entities became alive to the risks that their systems were being compromised, leaving them liable for huge penalties.
The Fintel Alliance says its methods of collaborating and sharing information have resulted in the arrest of 10 individuals for child-related offences and 25 detections of child exploitation material at the border. Three years after it elevated the detection and disruption of the “heinous crime” of child exploitation with a dedicated project, the work is being embedded into standard operations.
The alliance instigated 29 operations and delivered 225 intelligence products over the financial year. The operations and products in this co-operative environment are separate from AUSTRAC’s investigations and reports that are conducted by other divisions within the group.
The Fintel Alliance says it was able to curb widespread exploitation of the Australian government’s $60 billion stimulus package by leveraging the country’s membership of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body responsible for setting anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing standards.
“While many in our community have pulled together to help and support each other, we have also seen criminals adapt their behaviour to take advantage of the generosity of Australians when people are at their most vulnerable,” AUSTRAC’s Ms Rose said.
AUSTRAC was able to provide members of the alliance with fraud methodologies developed by the FATF. It shared five tailored reports with members and prevented an untold number of fraudulent activities. Over the first five months of the year, AUSTRAC says it received 5000 suspicious matter reports or close to 30 a day.
The annual report also contains a treasure trove of information about the growing sophistication of the group’s efforts, which include an encrypted algorithm that can link distributed transactions.
It also provides information about its next big project, which is designed to identify, target and disrupt attempts to defraud the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The group welcomed three members to the alliance over the year to June 30, including the Australian Border Force, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Queensland Police Service and the West Australian Police Force.