Financial Crimes Enforcement Network

Last updated
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network
Agency overview
FormedApril 25, 1990
Headquarters Vienna, Virginia
Agency executive
  • Director, Ken Blanco
Parent agency Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury that collects and analyzes information about financial transactions in order to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes.



FinCEN's director expressed its mission in November 2013 as "to safeguard the financial system from illicit use, combat money laundering and promote national security." [1] FinCEN serves as the U.S. Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and is one of 147 FIUs making up the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. FinCEN's self-described motto is "follow the money." The website states: "The primary motive of criminals is financial gain, and they leave financial trails as they try to launder the proceeds of crimes or attempt to spend their ill-gotten profits." [2] It is a network bringing people and information together, by coordinating information sharing with law enforcement agencies, regulators and other partners in the financial industry. [2]


FinCEN was established by order of the Secretary of the Treasury (Treasury Order Numbered 105-08) on April 25, 1990. In May 1994, its mission was broadened to include regulatory responsibilities, and in October 1994 the Treasury Department's precursor of FinCEN, the Office of Financial Enforcement was merged with FinCEN. On September 26, 2002, after Title III of the PATRIOT Act was passed, Treasury Order 180-01 [3] made it an official bureau in the Department of the Treasury. In September 2012, FinCEN's information technology called FinCEN Portal and Query System migrated with 11 years of data into FinCEN Query, a search engine similar to Google. It is a "one stop shop" [ sic ] accessible via the FinCEN Portal allowing broad searches across more fields than before and returning more results. Since September 2012 FinCEN generates 4 new reports: Suspicious Activity Report (FinCEN SAR), Currency Transaction Report (FinCEN CTR), the Designation of Exempt Person (DOEP) and Registered Money Service Business (RMSB). [4]


FinCEN organization chart FinCEN organization 2006.jpg
FinCEN organization chart

As of November 2013, FinCEN employed approximately 340 people, mostly intelligence professionals with expertise in the financial industry, illicit finance, financial intelligence, the AML/CFT (money laundering/terrorist financing) regulatory regime, computer technology, and enforcement". [1] The majority of the staff are permanent FinCEN personnel, with about 20 long-term detailees assigned from 13 different regulatory and law enforcement agencies. [4] FinCEN shares information with dozens of intelligence agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Secret Service; the Internal Revenue Service; the Customs Service; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

FinCEN Directors

314 program

The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act required the Secretary of the Treasury to create a secure network for the transmission of information to enforce the relevant regulations. FinCEN's regulations under Section 314(a) enable federal law enforcement agencies, through FinCEN, to reach out to more than 45,000 points of contact at more than 27,000 financial institutions to locate accounts and transactions of persons that may be involved in terrorist financing and/or money laundering. A web interface allows the person(s) designated in §314(a)(3)(A) to register and transmit information to FinCEN. The partnership between the financial community and law enforcement allows disparate bits of information to be identified, centralized, and rapidly evaluated. [6]


As early as 2003 FinCEN disseminated information on "informal value transfer systems" (IVTS), including hawala, a network of people receiving money for the purpose of making the funds payable to a third party in another geographic location,... generally tak[ing] place outside of the conventional banking system through non-bank financial institutions or other business entities whose primary business activity may not be the transmission of money. [7] On September 1, 2010, FinCEN issued a guidance on IVTS referencing United States v. Banki and hawala. [8]

Virtual currencies

In July 2011, FinCEN added "other value that substitutes for currency" to its definition of money services businesses in preparation to adapt the respective rule to virtual currencies. [9] On March 18, 2013 FinCEN issued a guidance regarding virtual currencies, [10] according to which, exchangers and administrators, but not users of convertible virtual currency are considered money transmitters, and must comply with rules to prevent money laundering/terrorist financing ("AML/CFT") and other forms of financial crime, by record-keeping, reporting and registering with FinCEN. Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of FinCEN said, "Virtual currencies are subject to the same rules as other currencies. … Basic money services business rules apply here." [11]

At a November 2013 Senate hearing, Calvery stated, "It is in the best interest of virtual currency providers to comply with these regulations for a number of reasons. First is the idea of corporate responsibility," contrasting Bitcoin's understanding of a peer to peer system bypassing corporate financial institutions. She stated that FinCEN collaborates with the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, a congressionally-chartered forum called the "Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) Advisory Group" and BSA Working Group to review and discuss new regulations and guidance, with the FBI-led "Virtual Currency Emerging Threats Working Group" (VCET) formed in early 2012, the FDIC-led "Cyber Fraud Working Group", the Terrorist Financing & Financial Crimes-led "Treasury Cyber Working Group", and with a community of other financial intelligence units. [1] According to the Department of Justice, VCET members represent the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, multiple U.S. Attorney's Offices, and the Criminal Division's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. [12]


In 2009, the GAO found "opportunities" to improve "interagency and state examination coordination", noting that the federal banking regulators issued an interagency examination manual, that SEC, CFTC, and their respective self-regulatory organizations developed Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) examination modules, and that FinCEN and IRS examining nonbank financial institutions issued an examination manual for money services businesses. Therefore multiple regulators examine compliance of the BSA across industries and for some larger holding companies even within the same institution. Regulators need to promote greater consistency, coordination and information-sharing, reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, and find concerns across industries. [13] FinCEN estimated that it would have data access agreements with 80 percent of state agencies that conduct BSA examinations after 2012. [13]

Since FinCEN's inception in 1990 the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco has debated its benefits compared to its threat to privacy. [14] FinCEN does not disclose how many Suspicious Activity Reports result in investigations, indictments or convictions, and no studies exist to tally how many reports are filed on innocent people. FinCEN and money laundering laws have been criticized for being expensive and relatively ineffective, while violating Fourth Amendment rights, as an investigator may use FinCEN's database to investigate people instead of crimes. [15]

It has also been alleged that FinCEN's regulations against structuring are enforced unfairly and arbitrarily; for example, it was reported in 2012 that small businesses selling at farmers' markets have been targeted, while politically connected people like Eliot Spitzer were not prosecuted. [16] Spitzer's reasons for structuring were described as "innocent". [17]

In February 2019, it was reported that Mary Daly, the oldest daughter of United States Attorney General William Barr, is to leave her position at the United States Deputy Attorney General's office for a FinCEN position. [18] [19] [20]

In September 2020, findings based on a set of 2,657 documents including 2121 suspicious activity reports (SARs) leaked from FinCEN were published as the FinCEN Files. [21] [22] The leaked documents showed that although both FinCEN and the banks that filed SARs knew about billions of dollars in dirty money being moved through the banks, both did very little to prevent the transactions. [21]

The 2016 film The Accountant features a FinCEN investigation into the title character. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

Money laundering Process of transforming profits of crime and corruption into ostensibly legitimate assets

Money laundering is the illegal process of concealing the origins of money obtained illegally by passing it through a complex sequence of banking transfers or commercial transactions. The overall scheme of this process returns the "clean" money to the launderer in an obscure and indirect way.

{{Infobox U.S. legislation | shorttitle = Bank Secrecy Act of 1970

Structuring, also known as smurfing in banking jargon, is the practice of executing financial transactions such as making bank deposits in a specific pattern, calculated to avoid triggering financial institutions to file reports required by law, such as the United States' Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Internal Revenue Code section 6050I. Structuring may be done in the context of money laundering, fraud, and other financial crimes. Legal restrictions on structuring are concerned with limiting the size of domestic transactions for individuals.

In financial regulation, a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) or Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) is a report made by a financial institution about suspicious or potentially suspicious activity. The criteria to decide when a report must be made varies from country to country, but generally is any financial transaction that does not make sense to the financial institution; is unusual for that particular client; or appears to be done only for the purpose of hiding or obfuscating another, separate transaction. The report is filed with that country's financial crime enforcement agency, which is typically a specialist agency designed to collect and analyse transactions and then report these to relevant law enforcement. Front line staff in the financial institution have the responsibility to identify transactions that may be suspicious and these are reported to a designated person that is responsible for reporting the suspicious transaction. The financial institution is not allowed to inform the client or parties involved in the transaction that a SAR has been lodged.

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2001 as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. It has ten titles, each containing numerous sections. Title III: International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 is actually an act of Congress in its own right as well as being a title of the USA PATRIOT Act, and is intended to facilitate the prevention, detection and prosecution of international money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The title's sections primarily amend portions of the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986 and the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970.

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2001 as a response to the September 11 attacks in 2001. It has ten titles, with the third title written to prevent, detect, and prosecute international money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

A Customer Identification Program (CIP) is a United States requirement, where financial institutions need to verify the identity of individuals wishing to conduct financial transactions with them and is a provision of the USA Patriot Act. More commonly known as know your customer, the CIP requirement was implemented by regulations in 2003 which require US financial institutions to develop a CIP proportionate to the size and type of its business. The CIP must be incorporated into the bank's Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-money laundering compliance program, which is subject to approval by the financial institution's board of directors.

The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units is an international organization that facilitates cooperation and intelligence sharing between national financial intelligence units (FIUs) to investigate and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing. National FIUs collect information on suspicious or unusual financial activity and are responsible for processing and analyzing the information received. FIUs are normally not law enforcement agencies themselves, findings are shared with appropriate law enforcement or prosecution bodies if sufficient evidence of unlawful activity is found. The Egmont Group is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Virtual currency, or virtual money, is a type of unregulated digital currency, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community. In 2014, the European Banking Authority defined virtual currency as "a digital representation of value that is neither issued by a central bank or a public authority, nor necessarily attached to a fiat currency, but is accepted by natural or legal persons as a means of payment and can be transferred, stored or traded electronically". By contrast, a digital currency that is issued by a central bank is defined as "central bank digital currency".

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Casinos in the United States which generate more than $1,000,000 in annual gaming revenues are required to report certain currency transactions to assist the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in uncovering money laundering activities and other financial crimes.

In the legal code of the United States, a money transmitter or money transfer service is a business entity that provides money transfer services or payment instruments. Money transmitters in the US are part of a larger group of entities called money service businesses or MSBs. Under federal law, 18 USC § 1960, businesses are required to register for a money transmitter license where their activity falls within the state definition of a money transmitter.

First Merchant Bank OSH Ltd (FMB) was an offshore bank of Northern Cyprus established in 1993. As an offshore bank it was not regulated by the Central Bank of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and not allowed to trade with Northern Cyprus residents. In August 2004 the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) designated it "a financial institution of primary money laundering concern" under Section 311 of the Patriot Act. The Northern Cyprus Ministry of Finance withdrew FMB's banking license in February 2007, and by April 2008 the bank's Ireland-registered major shareholder and its subsidiaries appeared defunct.

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Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses cryptography to control its creation and management, rather than relying on central authorities. It was invented and implemented by the presumed pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, who integrated many existing ideas from the cypherpunk community. Over the course of bitcoin's history, it has undergone rapid growth to become a significant currency both on- and offline. From the mid 2010s, some businesses began accepting bitcoin in addition to traditional currencies.

Legality of bitcoin by country or territory

The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from state to state and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Whereas the majority of countries do not make the usage of bitcoin itself illegal, its status as money varies, with differing regulatory implications.

Ripple Labs, Inc. is an American technology company which develops the Ripple payment protocol and exchange network. Originally named Opencoin and renamed Ripple Labs in 2015, the company was founded in 2012 and is based in San Francisco, California.

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The FinCEN Files are leaked documents from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), that have been investigated by BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and globally publicised on 20 September 2020. The reports describe over 200,000 suspicious financial transactions valued at over US$2 trillion that occurred from 1999 to 2017 across multiple global financial institutions. The documents appear to show that while both the banks and the United States Government had this financial intelligence, they did little to stop activities such as money laundering. The information implicates financial institutions in more than 170 countries who played a role in facilitating money laundering and other fraudulent crimes. Journalists around the world have criticized both the banks and the US government, the BBC stating it shows how the "world's biggest banks have allowed criminals to move dirty money around the world", and BuzzFeed News claiming the files "offer an unprecedented view of global financial corruption, the banks enabling it, and the government agencies that watch as it flourishes."


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