DOJ Sentences Founder of Money Laundering Operation to 20 Years Imprisonment

On May 6, the DOJ announced that U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote sentenced the founder of a Costa Rica-based virtual currency company to 20 years imprisonment and ordered him to pay a $500,000 fine for charges related to illegal money laundering. According to the DOJ, the individual owner, at all relevant times, directed and supervised the company’s operations and was aware that cybercriminals, such as credit card traffickers and identity thieves, were using the “digital currency empire” to launder the proceeds of illegal activity. The DOJ further asserts that the company “grew into a financial hub for cybercriminals around the world, trafficking the criminal proceeds of Ponzi schemes, credit card trafficking, stolen identity information and computer hacking.” When the government shut the company down in May 2013, it had more than 5.5 million user accounts worldwide and more than 78 million financial transactions processed, valued at more than $8 billion. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the owner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit money laundering; four other co-defendants also pleaded guilty, with two individuals being sentenced to five and three years in prison and two others awaiting sentencing.

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Spotlight Article: Work Continues on the Model Regulation of Virtual Currencies Act

Dana-Syracuse-with-captionOn April 2-3, 2016, the third meeting of the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) Drafting Committee on the Regulation of Virtual Currencies (the “Committee”) was held in Chicago, Illinois. Dana Syracuse was in attendance as an official Observer along with Committee members, industry stakeholders, thought leaders, and government representatives. The Committee’s work in Chicago reflects comments received in response to drafts generated in previous meetings in Washington, D.C. last fall and Palo Alto in February. The Committee’s primary goal is to establish a common set of standards regulating certain types of virtual currency companies, including transmitters, custodians, and exchangers of virtual currency.

Subsequent to that meeting the Committee released an updated Draft Model Act reflecting all comments received to date. The current version of the Draft Model Act is divided into eight articles, as summarized below.

Article 1 (General Provisions): This Article includes definitions, which are important for laying out the scope of the Draft Model Act. Of significance is the revised definition of “control,” which states that “control means possession of sufficient virtual currency credentials or authority on a virtual currency network to execute unilaterally or prevent indefinitely virtual currency transactions, but does not control possessing, for a reasonably time-limited period, virtual currency credentials sufficient to prevent virtual currency transactions to provide a service such as an escrow function or transaction management.” This definition is significant because it arguably takes some of the more interesting features of the blockchain, such as escrow functions and some multi signature implementations, outside of licensure. Other significant definitions include custody, storage, transfer, virtual currency, and virtual currency business activity. This Article also contains exemptions for certain categories of institutions including government agencies, banks charted under state law or the jurisdiction of the United States, certain payment systems, those dealing in foreign exchange, those engaged in personal use of virtual currency, miners, and those who fail to meet a minimum threshold of monetary activity. Read more…

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FFIEC Updates IT Examination Handbook

On April 29, the FFIEC updated its IT Examination Handbook, revising its Retail Payment Systems booklet to include an Appendix E, Mobile Financial Services. The Retail Payment Systems booklet consists of guidance intended to help examiners evaluate financial institutions’ and third-party providers’ management of risks associated with retail payment systems. Appendix E is designed to address risk management associated with mobile financial services (MFS): “Appendix E contains guidance pertaining to [MFS] risks that supplements existing booklet guidance on other retail payment topics, such as electronic payments related to credit cards and debit cards, remote deposit capture and changes in technology or retail payment systems.” Appendix E outlines risk management practices for the following MFS technologies: (i) short message service/text messaging; (ii) mobile-enabled web sites and browsers; (iii) mobile applications; and (iv) wireless payment technologies. In addition to MFS technologies, Appendix E also addresses management strategies related to (i) risk identification; (ii) risk measurement; (iii) risk mitigation; and (iv) monitoring and reporting.

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Georgia Department of Banking and Finance Authorized to Enact Money Transmission Regulations

On April 26, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 811, an Act to amend Title 7 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which includes banking and finance provisions. Notably, the Act authorizes the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance to enact rules and regulations to apply to persons engaged in money transmission or the sale of payment instruments involving virtual currency, as it finds necessary to, among other things, ensure the continued solvency, safety, soundness, and prudent conduct of persons engaged in those businesses, protect customers, encourage high standards of honesty, transparency, fair business practices and public responsibility, and  provide customers with timely and understandable information about virtual currency products and services. The Act is effective July 1, 2016.

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Massachusetts Division of Banks Issues Letter to Raise Awareness of Money Transfer Services Fraud

On April 8, the Massachusetts Division of Banks issued a letter to CEOs of licensed money transmitters regarding an increase in consumer scams related to the use of money transfer systems. The Division noted that “it is important that your employees and agents, as well as your customers, become familiar with warning signs of a scam and take appropriate action to avoid them.” To this end, the Division encouraged money transmitters to review existing programs regarding agent monitoring and anti-fraud to ensure, among other things, that (i) staff and agents are appropriately trained to monitor transactions and identify red flags; (ii) staff is authorized to terminate or place a hold on transfers which raise red flags for suspected fraud; and (iii) comprehensive policies, procedures, and training requirements for compliance with the BSA are in place.

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