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On December 4, FinCEN announced the release of a Financial Trend Analysis titled, “Elders Face Increased Financial Threat from Domestic and Foreign Actors.” In compiling the report, FinCEN reviewed Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) elder financial exploitation suspicious activity reports (SARs) from 2013 to 2019 to detect patterns and trends. Among other things, the study found that (i) elder financial exploitation filings nearly tripled during the study period, from around 2,000 per month in 2013 to nearly 7,500 in 2019, the majority of which were filed by money services businesses (MSBs) and depository institutions; (ii) while the amount of SARs filed by MSBs ebbed and flowed from 2013 to 2019, those of depository institutions steadily increased; (iii) MSBs filed nearly 80 percent of all SARs describing financial scams, while securities and futures firms filed just over 70 percent of all SARs describing theft; (iv) financial theft from elders is most frequently perpetrated by family members or caregivers; (v) SARs indicated that the most common scams included lottery, person-in-need, and romance scams, the majority of which saw elder victims transferring funds through MSBs; and (vi) money transfer scam SARs were most commonly filed by MSBs who transferred money to a receiver located outside the U.S.
Federal and state banking regulators confirmed in a December 3 joint statement that banks are no longer required to file a suspicious activity report on customers solely because they are “engaged in the growth or cultivation of hemp in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”
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Click here to read the full special alert.
For questions about the alert and related issues, please visit our Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering practice page, or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On November 15, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco delivered remarks at the Chainalysis Blockchain Symposium to discuss, among other things, the agency’s focus on convertible virtual currency (CVC) and remind attendees—particularly financial institutions—of their compliance obligations. Specifically, Blanco emphasized that FinCEN applies a “technology-neutral regulatory framework to any activity that provides the same functionality at the same level of risk, regardless of its label.” As such, money transmissions denominated in CVC, Blanco stated, are money transmissions. Blanco discussed guidance issued by FinCEN in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here) that reminded persons subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) how FinCEN regulations relating to money services businesses apply to certain business models involving money transmissions denominated in CVC. Blanco also highlighted the agency’s recent collaboration with the CFTC and the SEC to issue joint guidance on digital asset compliance obligations. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Highlights of Blanco’s remarks include (i) suspicious activity reporting related to CVC has increased, including “filings from exchanges identifying potential unregistered, foreign-located money services businesses”; (ii) compliance with the “Funds Travel Rule” is mandatory and applies to CVC; (iii) for anti-money laundering/combating the funding of terrorism purposes, accepting and transmitting activity denominated in stablecoins falls within FinCEN's definition of “money transmission services” under the BSA; and (iv) administrators of stablecoins must register as money services businesses with FinCEN.
FinCEN renews GTOs covering 12 metropolitan areas; legal entities that are U.S. publicly-traded companies not required to report
On November 8, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the renewal of its Geographic Targeting Order (GTO), which requires U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies that pay “all cash” (i.e., the transaction does not involve external financing) for residential real estate in 12 major metropolitan areas. While the purchase amount threshold for the beneficial ownership reporting requirement remains set at $300,000 for residential real estate purchased in the 12 covered areas, FinCEN modified the renewed GTO to note that it “will not require reporting for purchases made by legal entities that are U.S. publicly-traded companies. Real estate purchases by such entities are identifiable through other business filings.”
The renewed GTO takes effect November 12 and covers certain counties within the following areas: Boston; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Honolulu; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle.
FinCEN FAQs regarding GTOs are available here.
FinCEN final rule designates Iran a primary money laundering concern; new Treasury and State department mechanism to make humanitarian trade more transparent
On October 25, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the issuance of a final rule by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to impose a fifth special measure against Iran as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act. The final rule prohibits U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining a correspondent account on behalf of an Iranian financial institution, and also prohibits U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions involving Iranian financial institutions. The final rule takes effect ten days after publication in the Federal Register.
FinCEN stated that its action is based on Iran’s abuse of the international financial system, including providing support for terrorist groups such as Hizballah and HAMAS, and builds upon Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) September designation of Iran’s central bank for providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, its Qods Force, and Hizballah (previous InfoBytes coverage here). Additionally, FinCEN determined that the Iranian regime continues to engage in deceptive financial practices through the use of front companies and shell companies, among other things, to facilitate military purchases. These actions, FinCEN noted, are “further compounded by Iran’s continued failure to adequately address its AML/CFT deficiencies, as identified by the Financial Action Task Force,” which recently re-imposed countermeasures and enhanced due diligence strategies on Iran and “called on its members and urged all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to apply enhanced due diligence with respect to business relationships and transactions with natural and legal persons from Iran.” (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
Concurrent with the imposition of the fifth special measure, Treasury and the U.S. Department of State announced a new mechanism to increase the transparency of humanitarian trade with Iran that will establish processes for participating foreign governments and financial institutions when conducting enhanced due diligence designed to mitigate the higher risks associated with Iran-related transactions. OFAC’s guidance outlines due diligence and reporting requirements for participating entities, and stipulates that “[p]rovided that foreign financial institutions commit to implement stringent enhanced due diligence steps, the framework will enable them to seek written confirmation from Treasury that the proposed financial channel will not be exposed to U.S. sanctions.”
On October 22, the U.S. House passed the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019 (H.R. 2513) by a vote of 249-173. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, would, among other things, update anti-money laundering (AML) rules, and direct the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to collect and retain beneficial ownership information for corporations and limited liability companies for law enforcement agencies to access. Additionally, H.R. 2513 would update and revise the existing AML/Bank Secrecy Act framework to facilitate information sharing between law enforcement and regulators to prevent illicit activity such as terrorist financing and money laundering. The White House issued a statement of administration policy after the bill’s passage to commend the measure, emphasizing, however, that additional steps must be taken to improve H.R. 2513 as it moves along the legislative process: “These include aligning the definition of ‘beneficial owner’ to the [FinCEN’s] Customer Due Diligence Final Rule, protecting small businesses from unduly burdensome disclosure requirements, and providing for adequate access controls with respect to the information gathered under this bill’s new disclosure regime.”
On October 11, the SEC, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a joint statement to remind persons who engage in digital asset activities or handle cryptocurrency transactions of their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to the agencies, AML/CFT obligations apply to entities defined as “financial institutions” under the Bank Secrecy Act, which include “futures commission merchants and introducing brokers obligated to register with the CFTC, money services businesses (MSB) as defined by FinCEN, and broker-dealers and mutual funds obligated to register with the SEC.” The obligations include, among other things, (i) establishing and implementing an effective AML program; and (ii) complying with recordkeeping and reporting requirements such as suspicious activity reporting (SARs).
The agencies note that persons who engage in digital asset-related activities may have AML/CFT obligations regardless of the “label or terminology used to describe a digital asset or a person engaging in or providing financial activities or services involving a digital asset.” According to the agencies, the facts and circumstances underlying the asset or service, “including its economic reality and use,” is what determines how the asset is categorized, the applicable regulatory treatment, and whether the persons involved are financial institution under the BSA.
Additionally, FinCEN reminded financial institutions of its supervisory and enforcement authority to “ensure the effectiveness of the AML/CFT regime,” emphasizing that persons who provide money transmission services are MSBs subject to FinCEN regulation. FinCEN also referred to its May 2019 interpretive guidance, which consolidated and clarified current FinCEN regulations, guidance, and administrative rulings related to money transmissions involving virtual currency. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On October 3, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) issued guidance for state-chartered financial institutions that serve cannabis-related businesses. The guidance, which is intended to help financial institutions manage risks appropriately, addresses cannabis program governance and compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), as well as cannabis banking guidance issued in 2014 by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). As previously covered by InfoBytes, FinCEN’s guidance—which includes federal law enforcement priorities still in effect that were taken from a now-rescinded DOJ memo—details the necessary elements of a customer due diligence program, ongoing monitoring and suspicious activity report filing requirements, and priorities and potential red flags. Notably, the DBO states that while it will not bring regulatory actions against state-chartered financial institutions “solely for establishing a banking relationship with licensed cannabis businesses,” it expects all financial institutions to comply with FinCEN’s BSA expectations and guidance to make appropriate risk assessments. The DBO also referred bank examiners to its September Cannabis Job Aid, which is intended to assist with the examination of financial institutions that may be banking cannabis-related businesses.
On September 18, the FHFA issued Advisory Bulletin AB 2019-04, which provides guidance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) on fraud reporting requirements pursuant to 12 C.F.R. Part 1233 (FHFA Regulation). The Bulletin states that the GSEs are required to notify designees of the Director of the FHFA through the secure methods established by the FHFA within one calendar day from when the GSE discovers fraud or possible fraud that may have a “significant impact” on the GSE. The Bulletin defines “significant impact” as an event that “may create substantial financial or operational risk for the Enterprise, whether from a single event/incident or because it is systemic.” Moreover, the GSEs are required to submit a monthly fraud status report to the FHFA containing instances where they have (i) filed a suspicious activity report (SAR) with the Treasury Department or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; or (ii) discovered that the Enterprise purchased or sold a fraudulent loan or financial instrument, or suspects a possible fraud related to the purchase or sale of any loan or financial instrument, and the Enterprise has not filed a SAR. Additionally the GSEs are required to submit quarterly reports summarizing information concerning the GSE fraud risk management environments. The Bulletin is effective January 1, 2020.
On September 11, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Deputy Director Jamal El-Hindi delivered remarks at the 2019 Money Transmitter Regulators Association’s annual conference. El Hindi’s remarks focused on innovation and reform pertaining to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), supervision in the non-bank financial institution sector and coordination with state supervisors, and “the importance of a strong culture of compliance and what it means in a national and global security context.” According to El-Hindi, the BSA/anti-money laundering system “is good; but it can always be improved,” including through innovations that can “help better detect and safeguard against illicit activity.” El-Hindi reiterated FinCEN’s policy statement from December 2018, which encouraged innovation in the banking sector. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
El-Hindi also highlighted recent discussions related to the role artificial intelligence can play in reducing false positives to assist human analysis, and the potential for blockchain technology to enhance transparency through the understanding of customer identity or transaction profiles. He noted that these themes and others emerged from FinCEN’s recent “Innovation Hours Program,” which encourages fintech companies, regtech companies, and financial institutions to present to FinCEN new and innovative products and services for potential use in the financial sector. The program’s upcoming September meeting will focus on innovations in “know your customer” compliance, BSA reporting, and core inter-bank payment and messaging systems associated with industry anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism efforts. Additionally, El-Hindi noted that FinCEN’s enhanced supervision of nonbank financial institutions involves “actively prioritizing and engaging in,” among other activities, (i) conducting examinations of “specialized, rapidly evolving” financial services providers (e.g., virtual currency exchangers and administrators); (ii) identifying sector data to support FinCEN's analytic endeavors; and (iii) developing a stronger framework for risk assessments of the nonbank financial sector “from both the compliance and illicit activity standpoints.” El-Hindi closed his remarks by encouraging FinCEN and other regulators to discuss with foreign counterparts “the concept of a culture of compliance in the United States and what underpins it, and explore with our counterparts concepts that could underpin a culture of compliance in their own jurisdictions.”
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss “Beneficial Ownership: You have questions – We have quick answers” at the ABA/ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Legal & regulatory issues – Next wave of regulatory policy" at the Marketplace Lending & Alternative Financing Summit
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Risk management in enforcement actions: Managing risk or micromanaging it" at an American Bar Association webinar
- Kari K. Hall and Christopher M. Walczyszyn to speak on the "Understanding updates to Regulation CC to ensure effective check processing" at a National Association of Federal Credit Unions webinar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "ACAMS Moneylaundering.com Year-End Compliance Review and 2020 Outlook" at an ACAMS webinar
- APPROVED Webcast: Periodic reporting made easier
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "A 20/20 view on 2020’s legislative and regulatory outlook" at the ACAMS Anti-Financial Crime and Public Policy Conference