Australian authorities are investigating popular adult content site OnlyFans over fears it is being used as a vehicle to traffic drugs, launder money and exploit children.
NCA NewsWire reports that financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC and the Australian Federal Police are monitoring the not-safe-for-work site over concerns its murky payments platform is facilitating crime, as banks and regulators are unable to establish who receives the payments.
OnlyFans is a UK-based company that allows users to create a page and then charge customers a fee to view the content. A large portion of content on the site is explicit adult content and pornography.
According to its website, OnlyFans boasts more than one million content creators and 100 million users, and has generated more than US$3bn in earnings for creators.
University of NSW associate professor Michael Salter said there were deep concerns the platform was rife with people funding the sexual exploitation of minors, and questioned whether the company was doing enough to verify ages or check where money was going.
Salter, who is investigating OnlyFans with a consortium of academics, financial institutions and government agencies, claimed sexual content involving children was already being uploaded to the site.
"Last year through international partners we came across an OnlyFans account that was advertising on Twitter," he said.
"It had about 25,000 followers and was advertising a very young model who was male.
"We requested an assessment from a forensic paediatrician, who confirmed that the individual could be no older than 13 or 14, based on his physiological characteristics."
Salter and his partners contacted US authorities and the page was taken down on both Twitter and OnlyFans.
The potential facilitation of financial crimes is a major risk for banks, which under Australian laws are liable for transactions that breach anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing (AML/CTF) laws.
Where an OnlyFans customer in Australia makes a payment for the service, the bank or institution needs to ensure the payment is not suspicious.
Last year Westpac paid A$1.3bn to AUSTRAC for failing to comply with AML/CTF laws, with the watchdog finding the major bank did not properly flag suspicious transactions linked to child exploitation in Asia.
"Criminals will always seek to exploit the financial system to launder their money and harm the community. That is why it is so important that regulated businesses take their anti-money laundering obligations seriously," AUSTRAC said in a statement.
Ernst and Young principal Scott Mandell said platforms such as OnlyFans acting as an intermediary between the bank and the recipient heightened the risk of funds being used to bankroll crime.
"These platforms have less robust compliance policies than a typical bank.
"The banks have to know who they are doing business with, and these payment platforms then create a separate layer between ultimately the 'money launderer' and the bank that might be facilitating these transactions."
Australian Federal Police confirmed it was liaising with bodies such as AUSTRAC to better understand money laundering risks on technology platforms.
"Australia has strong financial regulations that force criminals to continually explore alternative means of trying to legitimise their money outside of the formal banking sector," AFP said.
"The AFP is aware of emerging avenues that criminal organisations may use to launder money gained through crime."
Bank and financial institutions must self-report suspicious transactions to AUSTRAC.
OnlyFans was contacted for comment by NCA Newswire but did not respond.