A HOODED MAN holds a laptop computer as blue screen with an exclamation mark is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. — REUTERS

NIGERIAN-RELATED cybercrimes in the Philippines surged in 2020, as syndicates took advantage of the accelerated digitalization at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) showed.

In a report, AMLC said it recorded 17,178 suspicious transaction reports (STRs) pertaining to Nigerian-related crimes in 2020, a 668% increase from the 2,236 reports in 2019.

The total value of the STRs jumped by 261% to P998.6 million in 2020, from P276.6 million in 2019.

“The notable rise in reported Nigerian-related crimes in the country should evidently be given attention. Aside from the significant amount, this study revealed that these unlawful transactions had been in existence in the country since 2009 and has proliferated up to the present,” the AMLC said.

The AMLC said it conducted the study amid the increasing incidence of online scams carried out by Nigerians, who operate within and outside the Philippines and use residents as mules.

“The pandemic served as precursor to signal the convenience and importance of digitizing the mode of transactions. What is glaring is that the increased use of online services during the pandemic also intensified the risks of cybercrimes,” the AMLC said.

Increased internet usage by Filipinos may have also contributed to the rise in cybercrimes, it added.

However, as lockdowns eased, the number of STRs linked to Nigerians declined by 47% to 9,036 in 2021, while the total value plunged to P569.9 million in 2021.

In its study, the AMLC noted the United States is the top source of foreign currencies linked to Nigerian-associated crimes, while most of the outward flows were sent to beneficiaries with addresses in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the National Capital Region recorded the highest number and value of STRs, particularly Quezon City (highest in terms of value) and Las Piñas City (highest in terms of count).

AMLC noted banks are the main channels for the delivery of big-ticket proceeds likely related to Nigerian-related crimes. Electronic money issuers, money service businesses and pawnshops are used for “moderate amount transactions,” it added.

AMLC noted that there was a higher reporting volume of e-money issuers as it provides anonymity to the perpetrators.

Scams linked with Nigerians include the romance scam, advance fee scam, and inheritance/package scam. However, the study also identified some red flags for transactions, such as deposits from unverified sources, involvement in illegal drugs, and inconsistent transactional activities with a subject’s business profile.

The top five illegal activities identified in the study are unsubstantiated transactions; advance fee fraud; unauthorized transactions from mostly compromised accounts; pass-through/money mules, and package scam.

AMLC noted cryptocurrency’s vulnerability to money laundering as crypto-related transactions also generated significant STRs.

To prevent the proliferation of these crimes, the AMLC encouraged covered persons to submit STRs on Nigerian subjects and their cohorts.

The study also recommends the involvement of AMLC’s asset management group to trace the assets of scammers and other claimants. — K.B.Ta-asan