Violent extremists are increasingly turning to virtual currency for fundraising, according to Canada’s financial intelligence unit.
The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) issued a special bulletin Tuesday, warning that ideologically-motivated violent extremist (IMVE) groups are switching to virtual currency to raise funds after facing obstruction from online platforms.
As online crowdfunding platforms and social media sites have cracked down on these groups in recent years, they’ve turned to alternative, smaller outlets and have encouraged their followers to send them money via mail, cheques, or money orders, which aren’t as easily detected, the centre said.
“IMVE threat actors have also increasingly turned to virtual currencies for fundraising,” the bulletin said, adding that they mainly use the virtual currency donations to fund their propaganda and recruitment efforts.
To date, virtual currency is not considered a legal tender in Canada.
In February, the Canadian government added four groups it deems as IMVE to its list of terror groups: Atomwaffen Division, the Base, the Proud Boys, and Russian Imperial Movement.
The government also listed three al-Qaeda affiliates Jama’at Nusrat Al-Islam Wal-Muslimin, Front de Libération du Macina, and Ansar Dine; five Daesh affiliates Islamic State West Africa Province, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Islamic State in Libya, Islamic State East Asia, and Islamic State-Bangladesh; and Hizbul Mujahideen into its Criminal Code list of terrorist entities.
FINTRAC said firms mandated to report suspicious transaction activity, which include banks, security dealers, and money service businesses, should be aware of these groups and their financing behavior.
Most funds were sent to pay for membership fees, purchase merchandise and gear, and make donations to overseas IMVE groups they support.
“While these transactions tended to be small, recurring transfers to multiple nodes of the same international network in different countries, they totalled significant amounts,” the centre said, noting that “Canadians were most often senders, not recipients, of funds.”
As for Canadian-based IMVE groups, they used personal and business accounts to purchase firearms and gear among other things, FINTRAC said. Personal accounts tend to be of smaller amounts and rely largely on electronic money transfers and cash deposits. Business accounts, on the other hand, raise larger amounts under the guise of legitimate business transactions.
“FINTRAC is aware of the growing use of virtual currencies by IMVE threat actors to send and receive funds. However, the individuals conducting transactions with someone in the network of IMVE threat actors were not always an IMVE threat actor themselves,” said the bulletin.
The centre also highlighted so-called lone actors who attempt to execute attacks themselves without any of their family members or friends awareness.
“[L]one actors may be difficult to identify through transactions patterns or financial activity alone,” FINTRAC said, because they primarily use their employment income or those received from family members to carry out their attacks.