On May 21, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service (OIG) issued a report titled, “The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services.” The report follows a January 2014 white paper issued by the OIG, which explored how the U.S. Postal Service could expand its provision of financial products to underserved Americans. The report summarizes five potential approaches for increasing the Postal Service’s financial services offerings, including: (i) expand current product offerings, which include paper money orders, international remittances, gift cards, and limited check cashing, as well as adjacent services (e.g., bill pay, ATMs); (ii) develop one key partner to provide financial services offerings, including possible expansion to general purpose reloadable prepaid cards, small loans, and/or deposit accounts; (iii) develop different partners for each product; (iv) make the Postal Service a “marketplace” for distribution of financial products of an array of providers; and/or (v) license the Postal Service as a financial institution focused on the financially underserved (although the OIG is not recommending this approach). Factors to consider when determining which approach to take, if any, include the legal and regulatory landscape; the effectiveness of cash management systems; dedication of the internal team, and public awareness of existing and potential services offered.
FinCEN Issues Geographic Targeting Order to Combat Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud in South Florida
On July 13, FinCEN issued a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) requiring check cashers in two South Florida counties to strengthen identification requirements for customers cashing certain Federal tax refund checks. According to FinCEN, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have become a haven for criminals who, using stolen identities, file fraudulent Federal tax returns and then cash the refund checks at a local check casher. Effective August 3 through January 30, 2016, the GTO will require check cashers located in those counties to obtain additional identifying information from customers seeking to cash Federal tax refund checks (including refund anticipation loan checks from third parties) that exceed $1,000. Issued in coordination with the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, the GTO will require customers to provide the following: (i) a valid government-issued identification; (ii) a digital photograph at the time of the transaction; (iii) a valid phone number; and (iv) a thumbprint. The GTO is intended to put a “roadblock in the path of those who would steal another person’s identity,” making it more difficult for the criminals to evade anti-money laundering controls and “reap the rewards of their actions.”
Eleventh Circuit Holds Federal Law Preempts Florida’s Check-Cashing Fee Restriction For Out-Of-State Banks
On May 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that with regard to out-of-state state banks, federal law preempts Florida’s prohibition on financial institutions settling checks for less than par value. Pereira v. Regions Bank, No. 13-10458, 2014 WL 2219166 (11th Cir. May 30, 2014). The ruling broadens a prior ruling that federal law preempts the same restriction with regard to national banks. Plaintiffs in this case filed suit on behalf of a putative class after the bank charged them a fee for cashing a check, claiming they received less than par value because of the bank’s fee. Florida law prohibits a financial institution from settling “any check drawn on it otherwise than at par.” The court explained that 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) provides that the laws of a host state apply to any branch in the host state of an out-of-state state bank to the same extent as such state laws apply to a branch in the host state of an out-of-state national bank. The court held that, based on 12 U.S.C. 1831a(j) and the court’s prior ruling regarding national bank preemption, the plaintiffs’ claims were clearly preempted. The court explained that assuming the relevant Florida law would prohibit Florida branches of out-of-state state banks from charging a fee to cash a check presented in person, that law would apply “to the same extent” that it applies to out-of-state national banks, and as such, is preempted.
On April 8 the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing with the general counsels of the federal banking agencies regarding, among other things, Operation Choke Point, the federal enforcement operation reportedly intended to cut off from the banking system certain lenders and merchants allegedly engaged in unlawful activities. Numerous committee members from both sides of the aisle raised concerns about Operation Choke Point, as well as the federal government’s broader pressure on banks over their relationships with nonbank financial service providers, including money service businesses, nonbank lenders, and check cashers. Committee members asserted that the operation is impacting lawful nonbank financial service providers, who are losing access to the banking system and, in turn, are unable to offer needed services to the members’ constituents. The FDIC’s Richard Osterman repeatedly stated that Operation Choke Point is a DOJ operation and the FDIC’s participation is limited to providing certain information and resources upon request. Mr. Osterman also asserted that the FDIC is not attempting to, and does not intend to, prohibit banks from offering products or services to nonbank financial service providers operating within the law, and that the FDIC’s guidance is clear that banks are neither prohibited from nor encouraged to provide services to certain businesses, provided they properly manage their risk. Similarly, the OCC’s Amy Friend stated that the OCC wants to ensure that banks conduct due diligence and implement appropriate controls, but that the OCC is not prohibiting banks from offering services to lawful businesses. She stated the OCC has found that some banks have made a business decision to terminate relationships with some nonbank providers rather than implement additional controls.
Recently, the state of Washington enacted SB 6134, which amends numerous provisions related to the supervision of non-depository institutions. The bill clarifies the statute of limitations applicable to certain violations by non-depository institutions by providing that enforcement actions for violations of the Escrow Act, the Mortgage Broker Practices Act, the Uniform Money Services Act (UMSA), the Consumer Loan Act, and the Check Cashers and Check Sellers Act (CCSA) are subject to a five-year statute of limitations. In addition, the bill provides that licensees under the CCSA and the UMSA that conduct business in multiple states and register through the NMLS must submit call reports to the Department of Financial Institutions. The changes take effect June 12, 2014.
On November 5, the DOJ announced that a New York check cashing company and its owner pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with more than $19 million in check-cashing transactions by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. The plea agreement requires the company to forfeit over $3 million and the owner to pay nearly $1 million in restitution for related tax violations; neither party has yet been sentenced. The DOJ alleges that over a two-year period the company cashed checks written on accounts of shell corporations. The shell corporations and the corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States. The check cashing company and its owner allegedly failed to obtain any identification documents or information from the individuals presenting the checks, filed false currency transaction reports (CTRs) that stated the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and in certain CTRs, failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. Related charges remain pending against additional defendants. These cases are being prosecuted by, among others, the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes complex, multi-district and international criminal cases involving financial institutions and individuals who violate the money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes.
State Law Update: Oregon Updates Check Cashing Regulations, Adopts Rules Allowing Bank Interest Rate Swaps
Recently, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services published final rules to update certain rules applicable to check cashing businesses. The adopted regulations simplify reporting requirements and reduce the data that licensees must include in annual reports. In the same publication, the Department adopted temporary rules granting Oregon commercial banks authority to engage in interest rate swap transactions as intermediary with and on behalf of the bank’s customers, provided the bank receives prior written approval from the Director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services and other specified conditions are satisfied.