On April 15, FinCEN issued Advisory FIN-2013-A002, which advises financial institutions to review regulations that require U.S. financial institutions to perform money laundering or other suspicious activity due diligence or enhanced due diligence for correspondent accounts and private banking accounts established, maintained, administered, or managed in the U.S. for foreign financial institutions or non-U.S. persons. The advisory states that as part of those requirements, covered institutions should be vigilant against transactions involving persons specifically designated for sanctions relating to Syria, as well as proxies acting on behalf of such persons. FinCEN advises institutions to (i) take reasonable risk-based steps with respect to the potential movement of assets that may be related to the current unrest in Syria, (ii) consider whether they have any financial contact with persons or entities (foreign or otherwise) that may be acting directly or indirectly for or on behalf of any senior foreign political figures of the Government of Syria, and (iii) file Suspicious Activity Reports when appropriate.
This week, FinCEN published its semiannual SAR Activity Review, which provides information about the preparation, use, and value of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions. The report identifies SAR trends, reviews law enforcement cases that demonstrate the importance and value of Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) data to the law enforcement community, and highlights issues related to financial exploitation of older Americans. FinCEN also published an annual companion report, “By the Numbers,” which compiles numerical data gathered from SARs filed by financial institutions.
On March 18, FinCEN issued guidance to clarify the applicability of Bank Secrecy Act regulations to persons creating, obtaining, distributing, exchanging, accepting, or transmitting virtual currencies. FinCEN clarifies that a person that obtains a virtual currency to purchase goods or service (a “user”) does not fit within the regulatory definition of a money transmission service, and therefore is not subject to the relevant regulations. However, a person engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds, or other virtual currency (an “exchanger”), and a person engaged as a business in issuing a virtual currency, and who has the authority to redeem such virtual currency (an “administrator”), generally are considered money transmitters under FinCEN’s regulations if they (i) accept and transmit a convertible virtual currency or (ii) buy or sell convertible virtual currency for any reason. The guidance reviews FinCEN’s specific determinations regarding different activities involving virtual currencies and the appropriate regulatory treatment of administrators and exchangers under each of the scenarios. Specifically, the guidance addresses (i) brokers and dealers of e-currencies and e-precious metals; (ii) centralized convertible virtual currencies; and (iii) de-centralized convertible virtual currencies.
On March 7, FinCEN issued a notice reminding institutions that they must use FinCEN’s new electronic reports to file most Bank Secrecy Act Reports, including Suspicious Activity Reports, Currency Transaction Reports, Registration of Money Services Business, and Designation of Exempt Person Reports. In February 2012, FinCEN issued a final notice requiring electronic filing of most reports by July 1, 2012. Shortly thereafter, FinCEN made available new formats for those reports, which all institutions must begin using by April 1, 2013. The new forms will support the agency’s enforcement efforts. For example, FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery explained recently that in 2012 more than 23 percent of SAR filers selected “other” as the type of suspicious activity. The new form expands the number of options for type of activity being reported from 21 to 70 and adds a text field, allowing filers to described activities more accurately. FinCEN warned that companies that fail to comply with the electronic filing mandate may be subject to civil money penalties.
On Mach 5, FinCEN published a notice and request for comment on proposed changes to the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (FBAR) to standardize it with other BSA electronically filed reports and allow for a third party preparer to file the report. FinCEN is seeking public comments by May 6, 2013.
On February 26, FinCEN issued Advisory FIN-2013-A001 to remind financial institutions of their important role in identifying tax refund fraud and provide a list of red flags to aid in such identification. The Advisory also reminds institutions that they may be required to filed a SAR if they know, suspect or have reason to suspect that a transaction conducted or attempted by, at, or through the financial institution (i) involves funds derived from illegal activity or an attempt to disguise funds derived from illegal activity, (ii) is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the Bank Secrecy Act, or (iii) lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose. Institutions completing a tax refund fraud SAR should use the term “tax refund fraud” in the narrative section of the SAR and provide a detailed description of the activity, and are encouraged to notify their local IRS Criminal Investigation Field Office of the filed SAR.
On December 26, FinCEN issued Notice 2012-2 to extend the deadline for certain filers to submit the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). FinCEN has extended this deadline several times in the past and the notice explains that FinCEN continues to receive questions from filers that require additional consideration. Pursuant to the notice, individuals previously granted extensions under FinCEN Notices 2011-1 and 2011-2, have until June 30, 2014 to comply.
U.S. Law Enforcement Authorities and Regulators Resolve Significant Money Laundering and Sanctions Investigations
On December 11, a major international bank holding company announced agreements with U.S. law enforcement authorities and federal bank regulators to end investigations into alleged inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws by the holding company and its U.S. subsidiaries (collectively the banks). Under these agreements, the banks will make payments totaling $1.92 billion, will continue to cooperate fully with regulatory and law enforcement authorities, and will take further action to strengthen its compliance policies and procedures. As part of the resolution, the bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ pursuant to which the banks will forfeit $1.256 billion, $375 million of which satisfies a settlement with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The four-count criminal information filed in conjunction with the DPA charges that the banks violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and to conduct appropriate due diligence on its foreign correspondent account holders. The DOJ also alleged that the banks violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act by illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in certain countries that were subject to sanctions enforced by OFAC. The banks agreed to pay a single $500 million civil penalty to satisfy separate assessments by the OCC and FinCEN related to the same alleged conduct, as well as a $165 million penalty to the Federal Reserve Board. The banks already have undertaken numerous voluntary remedial actions, including to (i) substantially increase AML compliance spending and staffing, (ii) revamp their Know Your Customer program, (iii) exit 109 correspondent relationships for risk reasons, and (iv) claw back bonuses for a number of senior officers. Read more…
FinCEN Issues Advisories Regarding Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Risks Identified by FATF
Recently, FinCEN published Advisory FIN-2012-A012, which informs financial institutions operating in the United States about certain money laundering and terrorist financing risks identified by the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF). On October 19, 2012, the FATF called on its members to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing risks emanating from Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The FATF announcement also detailed anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing deficiencies in 17 jurisdictions that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan to address the deficiencies. The FATF called for enhanced due diligence to address risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction. FinCEN separately published Advisory FIN-2012-A011 to advise institutions of an FATF statement regarding 22 jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, but for which each jurisdiction has provided a high-level political commitment to address the strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.
This week, FinCEN published summaries of a series of roundtable meetings held to obtain stakeholder feedback on the agency’s proposed rulemaking on customer due diligence. The meetings, held in September and October in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, provided a forum to discuss key issues regarding the proposed rulemaking, including (i) the definition of “beneficial ownership,” (ii) practices to obtain and verify beneficial ownership, and (iii) challenges associated with specific products, services, and relationships.
On November 29, FinCEN and the Federal Reserve Board announced that they are seeking comments on a proposed rule to amend the definitions of “funds transfer” and “transmittal of funds” set forth in the regulations implementing the Bank Secrecy Act. The proposed rule explains that the changes are designed to ensure that the current scope of the definitions is not expanded, following recent related amendments to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Comments on the proposed rule are due by January 25, 2013.
On November 19, FinCEN and the FDIC announced that a state bank agreed to pay a $15 million civil money penalty to resolve the bank’s “history of noncompliance” with Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements, including recent allegations that the bank failed to implement an effective BSA/AML Compliance Program with reasonable internal controls. Specifically, the federal agencies alleged that the bank failed to adequately oversee third-party payment processor relationships and related products and services. The payment also resolves parallel civil claims by the DOJ that the bank violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) by originating withdrawal transactions on behalf of fraudulent merchants and causing money to be taken from the bank accounts of consumer victims. Concurrent with the federal action, the Delaware Office of State Bank Commissioner terminated the bank’s state charter.
Last week, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David Cohen, and new FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery addressed the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference. Ms. Calvery and Mr. Cohen announced the formation of an interagency anti-money laundering (AML) task force comprised of Treasury officials, federal banking regulators, and enforcement agencies charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the AML regulatory and enforcement structure to address any gaps, redundancies or inefficiencies in the framework. Ms. Calvery further explained that the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group is exploring ways to reduce the variance between compliance risk and illicit financing risk. Ms. Calvery also stressed the importance of electronic filings, and urged financial institutions to adopt the new FinCEN reports before the April 1, 2013 deadline. Mr. Cohen discussed a proposed customer due diligence regulation, which would extend customer due diligence obligations by requiring institutions to collect information on an account’s beneficial owner. In connection with that rulemaking, FinCEN this week announced the last in a series of roundtable discussions to gather information from stakeholders and discuss key issues relating to the proposed rule. This final roundtable will be held on December 3, 2012, at the Miami Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
On October 22, FinCEN issued advisory guidance to financial institutions for filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) on conduct related to third-party payment processors. The FinCEN guidance lists several potential red flags with regard to these payment processors, including (i) fraud, (ii) accounts at multiple financial institutions, (iii) money laundering, (iv) enhanced risk, (v) solicitation for business, and (vi) elevated rate of return of unauthorized debit transactions. To identify suspicious activity involving payment processors, FinCEN suggests that financial institutions review and update their anti-money laundering programs, monitor whether legal actions are pending against payment processors, and verify that payment processors have all required state licenses and registrations. In addition, financial institutions may be required to file SARs if they know or suspect that a payment processor has conducted a transaction involving funds derived from illegal activity, or where a payment processor has attempted to disguise funds derived from illegal activity. When completing SARs related to payment processors, FinCEN requests that financial institutions (i) check the appropriate box on the SAR form indicating the type of suspicious activity, and (ii) include the term “Payment Processor” in the narrative and the subject occupation portions of the SAR.
FinCEN Publishes Mortgage Fraud Update and SAR Activity Review, Updates Electronic Filing Specifications
This week FinCEN published a new SAR Activity Review and a Mortgage Loan Fraud Update. This issue of the semiannual SAR Activity Review provides (i) the results of a survey of readers of the Trends, Tips & Issues and By the Numbers publications, (ii) an article on foreign-located money services businesses that have registered with FinCEN, (iii) feedback on FinCEN data from state and local law enforcement agencies, and (iv) articles focused on changes to SAR reports and tips for writing more effective narratives. The SAR Activity Review also provides an industry perspective on the AML risks presented by business funded prepaid cards. In the Mortgage Loan Fraud Update, FinCEN provides data regarding recent mortgage SAR activity during the second quarter of 2012. Overall, FinCEN experienced a 41% decrease in mortgage fraud SARs over the previous year, but SARs regarding foreclosure rescue scams continued to grow. FinCEN believes the growth in foreclosure-related filings could be attributed to a growing awareness of such scams and real estate market conditions.
On October 10, FinCEN issued updates to its electronic filing requirements for Currency Transaction Reports, Suspicious Activity Reports, and Designation of Exempt Person Forms. The updates do not include any new or deleted fields but do provide clarifications in the instructions for certain fields and other technical changes.