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On February 6, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Deputy Director Jamal El-Hindi delivered remarks at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s 20th Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Financial Crimes Conference discussing, among other things, the agency’s focus on the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). Specifically, El-Hindi stressed the importance of information sharing in the BSA context, remarking that the financial sector is “in an evolutionary state” dealing with “new technologies and new payment systems, such as those that involve virtual currency.” He asserted that innovators in the development of cryptocurrencies and messaging systems “cannot turn a blind eye to illicit transactions that they may be fostering,” and noted that FinCEN will regulate these emerging systems in accordance with existing principles that underlie the BSA and AML rules and regulations for the financial sector. El-Hindi encouraged the securities industry to share information, observing that only 14 percent of eligible securities companies are registered to take part in the 314(b) business-to-business information sharing program. He suggested that the industry needs better communication and cooperation to increase the effectiveness of BSA information collection. El-Hindi also discussed how cooperation has helped FinCEN’s cross-agency coordination and enhanced the agency’s rulemaking and guidance—specifically in the establishment of the Customer Due Diligence and Beneficial Ownership rule, but recognized that the lack of information collected regarding the formation of new corporations can frustrate the agency’s risk assessment abilities. To motivate information sharing, El-Hindi emphasized the importance of BSA information financial companies collect, sharing that SARs filings by securities companies have “increased roughly eight-fold” from 2003 to 2019, and that data provided from BSA filings is used frequently by law enforcement and regulators to inform their investigations and examinations and to “identify trends and focus resources.”
On January 9, the Federal Reserve Board announced that it entered into a cease and desist order on December 30 with a Texas state-chartered bank due to “significant deficiencies” in the bank’s Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program that were discovered in its latest examination of the bank. The requirements set out for the bank in the order include:
- Board oversight. The bank must submit a board-approved, written plan to improve oversight of BSA/AML requirements.
- BSA/AML compliance program. The bank must submit a written BSA/AML compliance program that includes BSA/AML training; independent testing of the compliance program; management of the program by a qualified compliance officer with adequate staffing support; BSA/AML compliance internal controls; and a BSA/AML risk assessment of the bank, its products and services, and its customers.
- Customer due diligence. The bank must submit a revised customer due diligence program that includes policies and procedures to ensure accurate client account information; a plan to bring existing accounts into compliance with due diligence requirements; a method to assign risk ratings to account holders; policies and procedures to ensure proper customer information is obtained according to the risk of the account holder; and risk-based monitoring procedures and updates to accounts.
- Suspicious activity monitoring and reporting. The bank must submit a written suspicious activity monitoring and reporting program that includes a documented process for establishing monitoring rules; policies and procedures for review of monitoring rules; customer and transaction monitoring; and policies and procedures for the review of suspicious activity.
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 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 August 13, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco delivered remarks at the 12th Annual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference stressing the need for compliance within the gaming industry, particularly as new technologies emerge such as mobile gaming and the use of convertible virtual currencies (CVC) increases. With the U.S. Supreme Court issuing a decision in May holding that states can legalize sports gambling (previously covered by InfoBytes here), Blanco stated that casinos need to consider ways to integrate their sports betting programs—including mobile sports betting apps—into their existing anti-money laundering programs. These measures must include establishing and implementing procedures for detecting and reporting suspicious activities, Blanco noted, reminding the audience of FinCEN’s FAQs designed to assist financial institutions when reporting cyber indicators and cyber-enabled financial crime.
Blanco also discussed FinCEN’s work with respect to cybersecurity and virtual payments, noting, among other things, that both online and physical casinos that accept CVC need to consider how they review transactions to determine the source of the currency and recognize indicators of suspicious activity. Blanco referred casinos to consolidated guidance issued by FinCEN in May (previously covered by InfoBytes here), and expressed a concern that “CVC-related SAR filings by casinos have not been as robust as expected since the May CVC guidance and advisory were published.” He further stressed the importance of information-sharing between casinos, and highlighted that sharing SARs can contribute to the identification of suspicious transactions as well as Bank Secrecy Act compliance responsibilities.
On July 17, the CFPB issued an updated advisory to financial institutions with information on the financial exploitation of older Americans and recommendations on how to prevent and respond to such exploitation. The update urges financial institutions to report to the appropriate authorities whenever they suspect that an older adult is the target or victim of financial exploitation, and recommends that they also file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The update builds on an advisory that was previously released by the Bureau in March 2016 (covered by InfoBytes here), which included recommended best practices to help prevent and respond to elder financial exploitation, such as (i) establish protocols for ensuring staff compliance with the Electronic Fund Transfer Act; (ii) train staff to detect the warning signs of financial exploitation and respond appropriately to suspicious events; and (iii) maintain fraud detection systems that provide analyses of the types of products and account activity associated with elder financial exploitation. With the release of the update, Director Kraninger noted that, “[t]he Bureau stands ready to work with federal, state and local authorities and financial institutions to protect older adults from abusive financial practices that rob them of their financial security.”
As previously covered by InfoBytes, in February, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, released a report studying the financial abuse reported in SARs, discussing key facts and trends revealed after the Bureau analyzed 180,000 elder exploitation SARs filed with the FinCEN from 2013 to 2017. Key findings of the report included, (i) SARs filings on elder financial abuse quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, with 63,500 SARs reporting the abuse in 2017; (ii) the average amount of loss to an elder was $34,200, while the average amount of loss to a filer was $16,700; and (iii) more than half of the SARs involved a money transfer.
On February 27, the CFPB’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans released Suspicious Activity Reports on Elder Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends, which discusses key facts and trends revealed after the Bureau analyzed 180,000 elder exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from 2013 to 2017. Key highlights from the report include:
- SARs filings on elder financial abuse quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, with 63,500 SARs reporting the abuse in 2017.
- Nearly 80 percent of the SAR filings involved a financial loss to an elder or to the filing institution. The average amount of loss to an elder was $34,200, while the average amount of loss to a filer was $16,700.
- Financial losses were greater when the elder knew the suspect, with an average loss of $50,000 when the elder knew the suspect compared to $17,000 with a stranger.
- More than half of the SARs involved a money transfer.
- Less than one-third of elder abuse SARs acknowledge that the financial institution reported the activity to a local, state, or federal authority.
On December 19, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced it filed charges against a Kansas-based broker-dealer for allegedly willfully failing to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) in connection with the illegal activities of one of its customers in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to the announcement, this is the first criminal BSA action ever brought against a U.S. broker-dealer. The allegations are connected to the actions of the broker-dealer’s customer, who was the owner of a Kansas-based payday lending scheme that was ordered to pay a $1.3 billion judgment for making false and misleading representations about loan costs and payments in violation of the FTC Act (previously covered by InfoBytes here). The U.S. Attorney alleges the broker-dealer, among other things, failed to follow its customer identification procedures, disregarded “red flags that were known prior to [the customer] opening the accounts,” and continued to ignore additional red flags that arose over time. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney alleges the broker-dealer failed to monitor transactions using its anti-money laundering (AML) tool, which led to numerous suspicious transactions going undetected and unreported until long after the customer was convicted at trial for his actions in the scheme.
Along with the announcement of the filing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office further stated it had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the broker-dealer in which it agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct, pay a $400,000 penalty, and enhance its BSA/AML compliance program.
The SEC also settled with the broker-dealer for the failure to file the SARs. The settlement requires the broker-dealer to hire an independent consultant to review its AML and customer identification program and implement any recommended changes. The independent consultant will monitor for compliance with the recommendations for two years.
On December 17, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the SEC announced separate settlements (see here, here, and here) with a global broker-dealer following investigations into the firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) programs. According to FINRA, the broker-dealer and its affiliated securities firm allegedly failed to establish and implement AML processes reasonably designed to detect and report potentially high-risk transactions, including foreign currency wire transfers to and from countries known to be at high risk for money laundering, as well as penny stock transactions processed through the use of an omnibus account on behalf of undisclosed customers. FINRA alleged that from January 2004 to April 2017, the broker-dealer “processed thousands of foreign currency wires for billions of dollars, without sufficient oversight.”
In a separate investigation conducted by FinCEN in conjunction with FINRA and the SEC, the broker-dealer reached a settlement over allegations that it failed to, among other things, (i) develop and implement a risk-based AML program that “adequately addressed the risks associated with accounts that included both traditional brokerage and banking-like services”; (ii) implement policies and procedures, which would ensure the detection and reporting of suspicious activity through all accounts, particularly for those accounts with little to no securities training; (iii) “implement an adequate due diligence program for foreign correspondent accounts”; and (iv) provide sufficient staffing, leading to a backlog of alerts and decreased ability to file suspicious activity reports (SARs).
According to the SEC's investigation, from at least 2011 to 2013, the broker-dealer allegedly failed to file SARs as required by the Bank Secrecy Act’s reporting requirements and Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Among other things, the SEC also claimed that the broker-dealer (i) provided customers with other services, such as cross-border wires, internal transfers between accounts and check writing, which increased its susceptibility to risks of money laundering and other types of associated illicit financial activity; and (ii) “did not properly review suspicious transactions flagged by its internal monitoring systems and failed to detect suspicious transactions involving the movement of funds between certain accounts in suspicious long-term patterns.”
After factoring in remedial actions, the broker-dealer has been assessed total civil money penalties of $14.5 million, including a $500,000 fine against the securities firm.
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