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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

FinCEN Updates GTOs for Title Insurance Companies in Several Major Metropolitan Areas, Issues Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Industry Regarding Associated Money Laundering Risks

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering SARs GTO

Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

On August 22, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published an announcement releasing revised Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) that “require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay for high-end residential real estate in seven major metropolitan areas[,]” without the use of a bank loan or other type of external financing but, rather, with the use of—at least in part—cash or a cashier’s check or similar instrument. The GTOs have also been expanded to now include high-end real estate transactions conducted in the following places: (i) Manhattan ($3 million) and all other boroughs of New York city ($1.5 million); (ii) Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties ($1 million); (iii) Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties ($2 million); (iv) Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio ($500,000); and (v) city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii ($3 million). 

Through the revised GTOs, FinCEN seeks to capture a broader range of transactions, including those involving wire transfers. According to FinCEN’s analysis of data covering GTOs, nearly 30 percent of the targeted transactions ended up involving a beneficial owner or representative who is already the subject of a previous suspicious activity report. The results appear to corroborate concerns underlying FinCEN’s rationale for issuing GTOs in the first place, and will assist future efforts to “assess and combat the money laundering risks associated with luxury residential real estate purchases.” For additional information concerning GTO compliance, FAQs released by FinCEN in August 2017 are available here.

FinCEN also published an Advisory that same day to provide financial institutions and the real estate industry with information on the money laundering risks associated with real estate transactions, including those involving luxury property purchased through shell companies, particularly when conducted as “all-cash” transactions without traditional financing. The Advisory also provides an overview of anti-money laundering regulations affecting the real estate sector.

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