What is Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) & Suspicious Transaction Report (STR)?

Financial institutions play a crucial role in curbing illicit financial activities. Among their key tools is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). SARs are pivotal in unusual activity reports that might be linked to money laundering, terrorism financing, or other illegal activities.

This article offers an in-depth exploration of SARs, from their definition and triggers to the reporting process and the subsequent steps taken by financial institutions.

What is a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR)?

A Suspicious Activity Report is a mechanism employed by financial institutions to alert regulatory authorities about transactions or behavior that appears abnormal, potentially criminal, or a threat to public safety. SARs serve as a critical component in law enforcement’s efforts to combat financial crimes. They enable the analysis of emerging trends in illicit activities and facilitate the development of policies to counteract such behavior.

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SAR History

A SAR operates as a crucial financial tool instituted under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) of 1970. It serves as a tool for monitoring and suspicious activity reporting activities that might otherwise escape standard transactional monitoring mechanisms.

Established as the primary means of reporting suspicious activities in 1996, Suspicious Activity Reports offer a comprehensive scope to identify potentially illicit transactions and activities within the financial domain.

Significance of Suspicious Activity Reports in Regulatory Compliance

SARs hold immense significance within the regulatory landscape, especially in the United States anti-money laundering statutes. Post-2001, the Patriot Act significantly bolstered SAR requirements, aiming to combat global and domestic terrorism.

In 2022 alone, 3.6 million SARs were filed, emphasizing this significance. Failure to disclose Suspicious Activity Reports or inform customers about filings can lead to severe penalties for both individuals and institutions. Suspicious activity reporting empowers law enforcement agencies by highlighting patterns in financial crimes, enabling proactive measures against illicit financial behavior.

Expanded Requirements and the Future of SARs

The Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, effective from January 1, 2021, expanded the ambit of anti-money laundering statutes. Retention of SAR filings for five years from the filing date is mandated. Financial institutions now must file Suspicious Activity Reports in instances of:

  • Suspected insider trading
  • Computer hacking evidence
  • Identification of consumers running unlicensed money services businesses

What is a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR)?

A Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) is a filed document by financial institutions to authorities, detailing unusual financial activity that might indicate money laundering, terrorist financing, or other crimes. It’s a red flag to help authorities investigate potential financial misconduct.

Ongoing Monitoring Toolkit


STRs emerged in the 1990s as countries tackled money laundering. The US led the way in 1992, then the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) established global standards, urging countries to implement STR frameworks.

Initially focusing on cash-intensive businesses, STRs expanded to cover diverse financial entities. Initially facing concerns about overreporting and privacy, STRs evolved with technology and collaboration, becoming crucial tools for fighting financial crime.

Today, STRs fuel investigations, inform policy, and support international cooperation, making them cornerstones of global financial integrity.

Significance of STRs in Regulatory Compliance

In the intricate world of regulatory compliance, Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) are not mere paperwork – they are powerful spotlights illuminating potential financial crime. These reports, filed by financial institutions when they encounter transactions raising red flags, serve as the first line of defense against money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit activities.

STRs are not simply reports – they are the cornerstones of a robust regulatory framework. They safeguard financial integrity, protect markets, and ultimately, prevent crime. Their significance is undeniable, making them invaluable tools in the fight against financial malfeasance.

What Triggers a Suspicious Activity Report?

SARs are triggered by various indicators that suggest a need for unusual activity reports. These include transactions exceeding certain values, sudden and irregular account activity, or unexpected changes in a customer’s transaction patterns.

For instance, a customer consistently depositing the same amount monthly and then abruptly engaging in erratic and large transactions within a short span can trigger a SAR.

Suspicious Activity Reports filing becomes necessary when financial institutions detect transactions or behaviors that deviate from established norms, potentially indicating illicit or suspicious activity. While not immediate, most countries allow around 30 days for institutions to confirm and file a SAR, extendable up to 60 or 90 days with additional evidence requirements.

Common Triggers for SAR Filing

Identifying unusual financial activities is crucial in triggering SARs filed by financial institutions. These are the two most common triggers for Suspicious Activity Reports:

1: High-Value Transactions

Transactions exceeding predefined monetary thresholds often raise red flags. This includes:

  • Transactions surpassing a specified value threshold.
  • International money transfers over a particular value, especially those without apparent justifiable reasons.

2: Unusual Account Activity

Any behavior departing from an account holder’s regular patterns can prompt suspicion, such as:

  • Sudden and unexplained changes in deposit or withdrawal frequency.
  • Drastic alterations in transaction size or frequency, contrasting with established transactional behaviors.

KYC Hub transaction monitoring

How to Report Suspicious Activity?

Suspicious activity reporting involves specific procedures outlined by financial institutions and regulatory bodies. Here are the important steps:

  • Identification: Recognize unusual or suspicious transactions through automated systems or human monitoring.
  • Internal Procedures: Financial institutions often have designated officers or teams responsible for investigating and documenting suspicious activities.
  • Documentation: Gather necessary information—transaction details, individuals involved, dates, and any supporting evidence.
  • SAR Filing: Complete the Suspicious Activity Reports form with comprehensive details and submit it to the appropriate authority within the specified timeframe.

Foundation and Purpose of SAR Filings

Financial institutions play a pivotal role in the SAR filing process. When a financial entity detects unusual or suspicious account activities, it must promptly submit a SAR to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division operating under the U.S. Treasury. The primary objective behind Suspicious Activity Reports filings is to trigger an investigation into the flagged incident.

The single biggest reason for a SAR filing is money laundering, according to FinCEN. The reporting institution must submit the SAR within 30 days of detecting suspicious activity, with provisions for an additional 60 days if more evidence is required.

Importantly, Suspicious Activity Reports filings do not necessitate proof of a crime, and the account holder remains unaware of the report’s submission.

Key Elements in SAR Filings

When preparing a SAR, financial institutions must provide critical information to FinCEN, outlining five essential elements:
The individuals conducting the suspicious activity.

  • Tools utilized in the transactions.
  • The timeframe during which the suspicious activity occurred.
  • A location where the activity transpired.
  • A reasoning behind perceiving the activity as suspicious.

1: Filing a SAR in the US

In the United States, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) receives SARs through the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) E-Filing System. Financial institutions use an online form to report suspicious activities, providing details such as transaction dates, involved parties, and a description of the suspicious activity.

2: Filing a SAR in the UK

In the UK, financial institutions submit Suspicious Activity Reports to the National Crime Agency (NCA). The nominated officer within the institution initiates the SAR filing. The SAR Online system is a rapid and efficient means for submission, although physical submissions are also accepted.

3: Filing a SAR in Singapore

The Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO) handles reports in Singapore, imposing significant fines of up to S$500,000 for individuals and S$1,000,000 for companies failing to report.

4: Filing a SAR in Hong Kong

Businesses in Hong Kong report SARs to the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit (JFIU), with non-reporting deemed a criminal offense, possibly leading to imprisonment and fines.

5: Filing a SAR in Switzerland

In Switzerland, SARs are directed to the Money Laundering Reporting Office (MROS), with non-compliance resulting in hefty fines up to CHF 500,000.

6: Filing a SAR in Germany

Germany’s AML act, GwG, overseen by BaFin, demands clear indications for submitting Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), with a mandatory five-year record keeping.

7: Filing a SAR in Australia

Australia’s AUSTRAC receives Suspicious Matter Reports (SMRs) online, and failure to submit timely SMRs can result in substantial penalty units in the Federal Court.

3 Stages of Money Laundering

What Happens after a Suspicious Activity Report is filed?

Once a SAR is filed, the regulatory authorities review the report, cross-check it against law enforcement databases, and determine if further investigation is warranted. The authorities may take actions such as initiating investigations, freezing assets, or conducting inquiries based on the reported information. After a SAR is filed by a financial institution, several steps are typically taken:

  • Initial Review
  • Investigation
  • Follow-Up Actions
  • Feedback to Reporting Institutions
  • Impact on Individuals or Businesses
  • Continuous Assessment

Suspicious Activity Report in Transaction Monitoring

SARs are a result of the effective transaction monitoring process that financial institutions employ. Automated systems detect potential suspicious activities, prompting human analysis, investigation, and the subsequent filing of Suspicious Activity Reports.

Transaction monitoring systems actively track and analyze customer transactions, seeking out irregular patterns or behaviors that could indicate potential money laundering, fraud, or terrorism financing. These systems sift through vast amounts of data, applying algorithms and rules to flag activities deviating from established norms.

Transaction monitoring, when effectively integrated, strengthens a financial institution’s compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) regulations. It not only aids in identifying suspicious behavior but also contributes valuable data for refining and improving regulatory policies.


Suspicious Activity Reports are pivotal in the fight against financial crimes, aiding in the identification and reporting of suspicious activities. They serve as the backbone of a secure and transparent global financial system.

These reports are more than just regulatory obligations; they represent a commitment to combatting money laundering, fraud, and illicit financial activities that threaten the stability of our financial networks.

In the pursuit of stronger compliance and seamless transaction monitoring software solutions, KYC Hub stands as a trusted ally. With innovative technology and a robust framework for automating reporting, KYC Hub’s solutions streamline SAR generation, ensuring timely and precise compliance.

As we embrace technology and innovation, solutions like those offered by KYC Hub are essential pillars supporting a more secure and vigilant financial ecosystem.

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