FATF REPORT Virtual Currencies


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FATF REPORT
Virtual Currencies
Key Definitions and Potential AML/CFT Risks
June 2014

FINANCIAL ACTION TASK FORCE
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The FATF Recommendations are recognised as the global anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorist financing (CFT) standard.
For more information about the FATF, please visit the website: www.fatf-gafi.org
© 2014 FATF/OECD. All rights reserved. No reproduction or translation of this publication may be made without prior written permission.
Applications for such permission, for all or part of this publication, should be made to the FATF Secretariat, 2 rue André Pascal 75775 Paris Cedex 16, France
(fax: +33 1 44 30 61 37 or e-mail: [email protected]).
Photocredits coverphoto: ©Thinkstock

VIRTUAL CURRENCIES – KEY DEFINITIONS AND POTENTIAL AML/CFT RISKS
CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION................................................................................................................................... 3 KEY DEFINITIONS:................................................................................................................................ 3
Virtual Currency ....................................................................................................................................4 Convertible Versus Non-Convertible Virtual Currency .........................................................................4 Centralised Versus Non-Centralised Virtual Currencies........................................................................5 Virtual Currency System Participants....................................................................................................7 LEGITIMATE USES................................................................................................................................ 8 POTENTIAL RISKS ................................................................................................................................ 9 LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS INVOLVING VIRTUAL CURRENCY ......................................................... 10 Liberty Reserve....................................................................................................................................10 Silk Road ..............................................................................................................................................11 Western Express International............................................................................................................12 NOTES .............................................................................................................................................. 13 BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SOURCES ........................................................................................................... 15

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ACRONYMS
AML/CFT ECB FATF NPPS Guidance

Anti-money laundering / countering the financing of terrorism
European Central Bank
Financial Action Task Force
Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Prepaid Cards, Mobile Payments and Internet-Based Payment Services

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VIRTUAL CURRENCIES - KEY DEFINITIONS AND POTENTIAL AML/CFT RISKS1
INTRODUCTION
As decentralised, math-based virtual currencies—particularly Bitcoin2—have garnered increasing attention, two popular narratives have emerged: (1) virtual currencies are the wave of the future for payment systems; and (2) virtual currencies provide a powerful new tool for criminals, terrorist financiers and other sanctions evaders to move and store illicit funds, out of the reach of law enforcement and other authorities.3 Against this backdrop, this paper builds on the 2013 New Payment Products and Services (NPPS) Guidance (FATF, 2013) by suggesting a conceptual framework for understanding and addressing the anti-money laundering / countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) risks associated with one kind of internet-based payment system: virtual currencies. Specifically, the paper proposes a common definitional vocabulary that clarifies what virtual currency is and classifies the various types of virtual currency, based on their different business models and methods of operation,4 and identifies the participants in typical virtual currency systems. It also applies risk factors set forth in Section IV (A) of the 2013 NPPS Guidance to specific types of virtual currencies to identify potential risks; describes some recent investigations and enforcement efforts involving virtual currency; and presents a sample of jurisdictions’ current regulatory approaches to virtual currency.
While the 2013 NPPS Guidance broadly addressed internet-based payment services, it did not define “digital currency,” “virtual currency,” or “electronic money.” Nor did it focus on virtual currencies, as distinct from internet-based payment systems that facilitate transactions denominated in real money (fiat or national currency) (e.g., Pay-Pal, Alipay, or Google Checkout). It also did not address decentralised convertible virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. The 2013 Guidance also notes that, “[g]iven the developing nature of alternate online currencies, the FATF may consider further work in this area in the future” (2013 NPPS Guidance, p. 11, para. 29). A shortterm typologies project on this basis was initiated with the following objectives:
• develop a risk-matrix for virtual currencies (or perhaps, more broadly, for both virtual currencies and e-money);
• promote fuller understanding of the parties involved in convertible virtual currency systems and the way virtual currency can be used to operate payment systems; and
• stimulate a discussion on implementing risk-based AML/CFT regulations in this area.
This typologies project may lead to policy work by the FATF, e.g. the issuance of supplemental guidance for applying a risk-based approach to virtual currencies that would incorporate the proposed vocabulary and risk-matrix developed by the typologies project and explain how specific FATF Recommendations apply in the context of virtual currency.
KEY DEFINITIONS:
A common set of terms reflecting how virtual currencies operate is a crucial first step to enable government officials, law enforcement, and private sector entities to analyse the potential AML/CFT

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risks of virtual currency as a new payment method. As regulators and law enforcement officials around the world begin to grapple with the challenges presented by virtual currencies, it has become apparent that we lack a common vocabulary that accurately reflects the different forms virtual currency may take. The following set of terms is intended to aid discussion between FATF members. It is important to note that this vocabulary may change as virtual currency evolves and as regulators and law enforcement/government officials continue to consider the challenges virtual currencies present. Nevertheless, the proposed vocabulary aims to provide a common language for developing conceptual tools to help us better understand how virtual currencies operate and the risks and potential benefits they offer.
VIRTUAL CURRENCY
Virtual currency is a digital representation5 of value that can be digitally traded and functions as (1) a medium of exchange; and/or (2) a unit of account; and/or (3) a store of value, but does not have legal tender status (i.e., when tendered to a creditor, is a valid and legal offer of payment)6 in any jurisdiction.7 It is not issued nor guaranteed by any jurisdiction, and fulfils the above functions only by agreement within the community of users of the virtual currency. Virtual currency is distinguished from fiat currency (a.k.a. “real currency,” “real money,” or “national currency”), which is the coin and paper money of a country that is designated as its legal tender; circulates; and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the issuing country. It is distinct from e-money, which is a digital representation of fiat currency used to electronically transfer value denominated in fiat currency. E-money is a digital transfer mechanism for fiat currency—i.e., it electronically transfers value that has legal tender status.
Digital currency can mean a digital representation of either virtual currency (non-fiat) or e-money (fiat) and thus is often used interchangeably with the term “virtual currency”. In this paper to avoid confusion, only the terms “virtual currency” or “e-money” are used.
CONVERTIBLE VERSUS NON-CONVERTIBLE VIRTUAL CURRENCY
This paper proposes dividing virtual currency into two basic types: convertible and non-convertible virtual currency.8 Although the paper uses “non-convertible” and “closed”, and “convertible” and “open” as synonyms, it should be emphasised that the notion of “convertible currency” does not in any way imply an ex officio convertibility (e.g. in the case of gold standard), but rather a de facto convertibility (e.g. because a market exists). Thus, a virtual currency is “convertible” only as long as some private participants make offers and others accept them, since the “convertibility” is not guaranteed at all by law.
Convertible (or open) virtual currency has an equivalent value in real currency and can be exchanged back-and-forth for real currency.9 Examples include: Bitcoin; e-Gold (defunct); Liberty Reserve (defunct); Second Life Linden Dollars; and WebMoney.10
Non-convertible (or closed) virtual currency is intended to be specific to a particular virtual domain or world, such as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) or Amazon.com, and under the rules governing its use, cannot be exchanged for fiat currency. Examples include: Project Entropia Dollars; Q Coins; and World of Warcraft Gold.

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It should be noted that even where, under the terms set by the administrator, a non-convertible currency is officially transferrable only within a specific virtual environment and is not convertible, it is possible that an unofficial, secondary black market may arise that provides an opportunity to exchange the “non-convertible” virtual currency for fiat currency or another virtual currency. Generally, the administrator will apply sanctions (including termination of membership and/or forfeiture of remaining virtual currency) to those seeking to create or use a secondary market, contrary to the rules of the currency.11 Development of a robust secondary black market in a particular “non-convertible” virtual currency may, as a practical matter, effectively transform it into a convertible virtual currency. A non-convertible characterisation is thus not necessarily static.
CENTRALISED VERSUS NON-CENTRALISED VIRTUAL CURRENCIES
All non-convertible virtual currencies are centralised: by definition, they are issued by a central authority that establishes rules making them non-convertible. In contrast, convertible virtual currencies may be either of two sub-types: centralised or decentralised.
Centralised Virtual Currencies have a single administrating authority (administrator)—i.e., a third party12 that controls the system. An administrator issues the currency; establishes the rules for its use; maintains a central payment ledger; and has authority to redeem the currency (withdraw it from circulation). The exchange rate for a convertible virtual currency may be either floating— i.e., determined by market supply and demand for the virtual currency--or pegged—i.e., fixed by the administrator at a set value measured in fiat currency or another real-world store of value, such as gold or a basket of currencies. Currently, the vast majority of virtual currency payments transactions involve centralised virtual currencies. Examples: E-gold (defunct); Liberty Reserve dollars/euros (defunct); Second Life “Linden dollars”; PerfectMoney; WebMoney “WM units”; and World of Warcraft gold.
Decentralised Virtual Currencies (a.k.a. crypto-currencies) are distributed13, open-source, math-based peer-to-peer virtual currencies that have no central administrating authority, and no central monitoring or oversight. Examples: Bitcoin; LiteCoin; and Ripple.14
Cryptocurrency refers to a math-based, decentralised convertible virtual currency that is protected by cryptography.—i.e., it incorporates principles of cryptography to implement a distributed, decentralised, secure information economy. Cryptocurrency relies on public and private keys to transfer value from one person (individual or entity) to another, and must be cryptographically signed each time it is transferred. The safety, integrity and balance of cryptocurrency ledgers is ensured by a network of mutually distrustful parties (in Bitcoin, referred to as miners) who protect the network in exchange for the opportunity to obtain a randomly distributed fee (in Bitcoin, a small number of newly created bitcoins, called the “block reward” and in some cases, also transaction fees paid by users as a incentive for miners to include their transactions in the next block). Hundreds of cryptocurrency specifications have been defined, mostly derived from Bitcoin, which uses a proofof-work system to validate transactions and maintain the block chain. While Bitcoin provided the first fully implemented cryptocurrency protocol, there is growing interest in developing alternative, potentially more efficient proof methods, such as systems based on proof-of-stake.
Bitcoin, launched in 2009, was the first decentralised convertible virtual currency, and the first cryptocurrency. Bitcoins are units of account composed of unique strings of numbers and letters

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that constitute units of the currency and have value only because individual users are willing to pay for them. Bitcoins are digitally traded between users with a high degree of anonymity and can be exchanged (purchased or cashed out) into US dollars, Euros, and other fiat or virtual currencies. Anyone can download the free, open-source software from a website to send, receive, and store bitcoins and monitor Bitcoin transactions. Users can also obtain Bitcoin addresses, which function like accounts, at a Bitcoin exchanger or online wallet service. Transactions (fund flows) are publicly available in a shared transaction register and identified by the Bitcoin address, a string of letters and numbers that is not systematically linked to an individual.. Therefore, Bitcoin is said to be “pseudoanonymous”. Bitcoin is capped at 21 million bitcoins (but each unit could be divided in smaller parts), projected to be reached by 2140.15 As of April 2, 2014, there were over 12-and-a-half million bitcoins, with total value of slightly more than USD 5.5 billion, based on the average exchange rate on that date.
Altcoin refers to math-based decentralised convertible virtual currency other than bitcoins, the original such currency. Current examples include Ripple; PeerCoin, Lite-coin; zerocoin; anoncoin and dogecoin. One popular exchanger, Cryptsy, would reportedly exchange over 100 different virtual currencies (as of 2 April 2014). (Popper, N., 2013)
Anonymiser (anonymising tool) refers to tools and services, such as darknets and mixers, designed to obscure the source of a Bitcoin transaction and facilitate anonymity. (Examples: Tor (darknet); Dark Wallet (darknet); Bitcoin Laundry (mixer)).
Mixer (laundry service, tumbler) is a type of anonymiser that obscures the chain of transactions on the blockchain by linking all transactions in the same bitcoin address and sending them together in a way that makes them look as if they were sent from another address. A mixer or tumbler sends transactions through a complex, semi-random series of dummy transactions that makes it extremely difficult to link specific virtual coins (addresses) with a particular transaction. Mixer services operate by receiving instructions from a user to send funds to a particular bitcoin address. The mixing service then “comingles” this transaction with other user transactions, such that it becomes unclear to whom the user intended the funds to be directed. (Examples: Bitmixer.io; SharedCoin; Blockchain.info; Bitcoin Laundry; Bitlaunder; Easycoin).
Tor (originally, The Onion Router) is an underground distributed network of computers on the Internet that conceals the true IP addresses, and therefore the identities of the network’s users, by routing communications/transactions through multiple computers around the world and wrapping them in numerous layers of encryption. Tor makes it very difficult to physically locate computers hosting or accessing websites on the network. This difficulty can be exacerbated by use of additional tumblers or anonymisers on the Tor network. Tor is one of several underground distributed computer networks, often referred to as darknets, cypherspace, the Deep web, or anonymous networks, which individuals use to access content in a manner designed to obscure their identity and associated Internet activity.
Dark Wallet is a browser-based extension wallet, currently available on Chrome (and potentially on Firefox), that seeks to ensure the anonymity of Bitcoin transactions by incorporating the following features: auto-anonymiser (mixer); decentralised trading; uncensorable crowd funding platforms; stock platforms and information black markets; and decentralised market places similar to Silk Road.

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Cold Storage refers to an offline Bitcoin wallet—i.e., a Bitcoin wallet that is not connected to the Internet. Cold storage is intended to help protect the stored virtual currency against hacking and theft.
Hot Storage refers to an online bitcoin wallet. Because it is connected to the Internet, hot storage is more vulnerable to hacking/theft than cold storage.
Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) is a locally organised economic organisation that allows members to exchange goods and services with others in the group. LETS use a locally created currency to denominate units of value that can be traded or bartered in exchange for goods or services. Theoretically, bitcoins could be adopted as the local currency used within a LETS. (Examples: Ithica Dollars; Mazacoin).
VIRTUAL CURRENCY SYSTEM PARTICIPANTS
An exchanger (also sometimes called a virtual currency exchange) is a person or entity engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds, or other forms of virtual currency and also precious metals, and vice versa, for a fee (commission). Exchangers generally accept a wide range of payments, including cash, wires, credit cards, and other virtual currencies, and can be administrator-affiliated, non-affiliated, or a third party provider. Exchangers can act as a bourse or as an exchange desk. Individuals typically use exchangers to deposit and withdraw money from virtual currency accounts.
An administrator is a person or entity engaged as a business in issuing (putting into circulation) a centralised virtual currency, establishing the rules for its use; maintaining a central payment ledger; and who has the authority to redeem (withdraw from circulation) the virtual currency.
A user is a person/entity who obtains virtual currency and uses it to purchase real or virtual goods or services or send transfers in a personal capacity to another person (for personal use), or who holds the virtual currency as a (personal) investment. Users can obtain virtual currency in several ways. For example, they can (1) purchase virtual currency, using real money (from an exchanger or, for certain centralised virtual currencies, directly from the administrator/issuer); (2) engage in specific activities that earn virtual currency payments (e.g., respond to a promotion, complete an online survey, provide a real or virtual good or service); (3) with some decentralised virtual currencies (e.g., Bitcoin), self-generate units of the currency by "mining" them (see definition of miner, below),and receive them as gifts, rewards, or as part of a free initial distribution.
A miner is an individual or entity that participates in a decentralised virtual currency network by running special software to solve complex algorithms in a distributed proof-of-work or other distributed proof system used to validate transactions in the virtual currency system. Miners may be users, if they self-generate a convertible virtual currency solely for their own purposes, e.g., to hold for investment or to use to pay an existing obligation or to purchase goods and services. Miners may also participate in a virtual currency system as exchangers, creating the virtual currency as a business in order to sell it for fiat currency or other virtual currency.
Virtual currency wallet is a means (software application or other mechanism/medium) for holding, storing and transferring bitcoins or other virtual currency.

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A wallet provider is an entity that provides a virtual currency wallet (i.e., a means (software application or other mechanism/medium) for holding, storing and transferring bitcoins or other virtual currency). A wallet holds the user’s private keys, which allow the user to spend virtual currency allocated to the virtual currency address in the block chain. A wallet provider facilitates participation in a virtual currency system by allowing users, exchangers, and merchants to more easily conduct the virtual currency transactions. The wallet provider maintains the customer’s virtual currency balance and generally also provides storage and transaction security. For example, beyond providing bitcoin addresses, the wallet may offer encryption; multiple key (multi-key) signature protection, backup/cold storage; and mixers. All Bitcoin wallets can interoperate with each other. Wallets can be stored both online (“hot storage”) or offline (“cold storage”). (Examples: Coinbase; Multibit; Bitcoin Wallet).
In addition, various other entities may participate in a virtual currency system and may be affiliated with or independent of exchangers and/or administrators. These include web administration service providers (a.k.a. web administrators); third party payments senders facilitating merchant acceptance; software developers; and application providers (some of the “other entities” listed in this paragraph may already fall into one of the categories above.). Applications and software development can be for legitimate purposes—e.g., to increase ease of merchant acceptance and customer payments or to respond to legitimate privacy concerns—or for illicit purposes—e.g., a mixer developer/operator can target illicit users with products designed to avoid regulatory and law enforcement scrutiny.
It must be emphasised that this list of participants is not exhaustive. Moreover, given the rapid development of virtual currency technologies and business models, additional participants could arise within virtual currency systems and pose potential AML/CFT risks.

Taxonomy of Virtual Currencies

Convertible Non-convertible

Centralised
Administrator, exchangers, users; third-party ledger; can be exchanged for fiat currency. Example: WebMoney
Administrator, exchangers, users; third-party ledger; cannot be exchanged for fiat currency. Example: World of Warcraft Gold

Decentralised
Exchangers, users (no administrator); no Trusted Third-Party ledger; can be exchanged for fiat currency. Example: Bitcoin
Does not exist

LEGITIMATE USES
Like other new payment methods, virtual currency has legitimate uses, with prominent venture capital firms investing in virtual currency start-ups. Virtual currency has the potential to improve

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FATF REPORT Virtual Currencies