FinCEN Orders Title Insurers to Provide Info About Suspicious All-cash Deals in Miami, Manhattan

January 28, 2016

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issued Geographic Targeting Orders requiring several title insurance underwriters to identify the names of individuals involved in shell companies and other legal entities that make all-cash purchases for high-end residential real estate in Manhattan, N.Y., and Miami-Dade County, Fla.

  • Order for Manhattan
  • Order for Miami-Dade County

FinCEN is concerned that all-cash transactions in these areas are being used by individuals to hide their assets and identity by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies or other opaque structures.

To help mitigate this potential money-laundering vulnerability, FinCEN will require certain underwriters to identify and report the true “beneficial owner” behind a legal entity involved in certain high-end deals in these two areas. The reporting requirement also pertains to the underwriters’ subsidiaries and agents.

“We are seeking to understand the risk that corrupt foreign officials, or transnational criminals, may be using premium U.S. real estate to secretly invest millions in dirty money,” said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. “Over the years, our rules have evolved to make the standard mortgage market more transparent and less hospitable to fraud and money laundering. But cash purchases present a more complex gap that we seek to address. These GTOs will produce valuable data that will assist law enforcement and inform our broader efforts to combat money laundering in the real estate sector.”

Under specific circumstances, the orders require certain underwriters to record and report to FinCEN the beneficial ownership information of legal entities purchasing certain high-value residential real estate without external financing. They will report this information to FinCEN where it will be made available to law enforcement investigators as part of FinCEN’s database.

Any underwriters  that received the order must file a currency transaction report with FinCEN if these things occur:

  • Location (deal occurs in Manhattan or Miami-Dade County
  • All-cash deal (no financing)
  • Purchase price in Manhattan is in excess of $3 million and purchase price in Miami-Dade County is in excess of $1 million
  • There’s a corporate buyer
  • Purchase price paid via monetary instrument

The report must include:

  • Information about the identity of the individual primarily responsible for representing the buyer. The title company must obtain a record of the individual’s driver’s license, passport of other similar identification
  • Date of closing of the covered transaction
  • Total amount transferred in the form of a monetary instrument
  • Total purchase price of the covered transaction
  • Address of real property involved

If the purchase involved in the covered transaction is a limited liability company, the underwriter must provide the name, address and taxpayer identification number of all its members.

Additionally, covered title companies must retain all records relating to compliance with the order for five years, store the records so they are accessible with a reasonable period of time and make the data available to FinCEN or other law enforcement or regulatory agency, upon request.

The term of this order expires in 180 days, but FinCEN may indefinitely renew the order for another six months and for additional areas.

FinCEN said title insurance companies play a central role in real estate transactions and can provide valuable information about potential illegal activities.

“FinCEN appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the title insurance companies and the American Land Title Association in protecting the real estate markets from abuse by illicit actors,” FinCEN said in a release.

ALTA is actively assisting our members to comply with these reporting requirements.

“ALTA looks forward to continuing its work with FinCEN as members implement the order to help prevent money laundering schemes and the illegal purchase of real estate in the United States,” said Michelle Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer. “As the independent third-party at the closing table, ALTA members work to safeguard the real estate transaction for millions of Americans every year. Our work with FinCEN underscores ALTA members’ commitment to providing a compliant real estate settlement experience.”

ALTA has already submitted a letter to FinCEN’s director asking for several clarifications to promote consistency in reporting and help the industry better understand which transactions are covered by the order.

ALTA proposes FinCEN adopt RESPA’s definition for “residential.” Industry familiarity with definitions and regulatory scheme provided by RESPA will help title companies identify transactions covered by the order.

ALTA recommends that the definition of “Legal Entity” exclude trusts. The order defines the term “Legal Entity” as a corporation, limited liability company, partnership or other similar business entity.” According to the letter, ALTA said that unlike a corporation, a trust is not considered a separate legal entity under the common law of various states. Adopting this recommendation will provide a definition consistent with those used by the industry for purposes of determining how to effectively transfer title.

ALTA also suggests that the definition of “agents” refer only to people or entities with a contractual relationship with the covered title company. State insurance laws require insurers to appoint agents via a specific written contract or authorization. This will help the insurers consistently determine which business partners they must educate and supervise to comply with the order.

“We urge FinCEN to use a reasonable and good-faith test for determining insurers’ compliance with this order,” ALTA wrote in its letter. “We believe the clarifications requested and joint education with the insurer and FinCEN, should ensure that all covered transactions that the insurer is aware of will be reported; however, even with the best efforts of title insurers, there may be transactions of which the insurer is not made aware.”

To aid compliance, title professionals are encouraged to have a better understanding of the types of customers they do business with. Real estate agents and attorneys should be resources to help gather information about corporate entities purchasing real estate.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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