Do you distrust the banking system? Prefer to do business in cash? Complain about the encroachment of Big Brother into every facet of your life?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’d better watch out. You’re a “person of interest” – and a growing number of businesses must report your “suspicious activities” to the feds. If they don’t, they can be fined and the responsible parties even imprisoned.
These requirements originated in a law called the “Bank Secrecy Act” (BSA). Of course, this Orwellian law has nothing at all to do with protecting bank secrecy. Indeed, the BSA has all but eliminated confidentiality.
Regulations issued under the BSA require financial institutions to notify the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a Treasury Department bureau, of any unusual transactions in which their customers engage. Reporting is mandatory for transactions that exceed $10,000 and are not the sort in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage. For money transmitter businesses, a $2,000 threshold applies.
The businesses covered by these requirements must file “suspicious activities reports” (SARs) secretly, without your knowledge or consent. FinCEN makes the reports available electronically to every US Attorney’s office and to dozens of law enforcement agencies. No court order, warrant, subpoena, or even written request is needed to access a report.
What exactly is suspicious? According to official Treasury guidance, suspicious behavior includes:
Paying off a loan;
Objecting to completing Currency Transaction Reports (required for transactions over $10,000);
Changing currency from small to large denominations;
Buying cashier’s checks, money orders, or travelers’ checks for less than the reporting limit ($10,000 for a cash transaction);
Making deposits in cash, then having the money wired somewhere else; and
Withdrawing cash without counting the cash first.