January 11, 2012
Last week, the US government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an agency of the US Treasury Department, published its 2011 annual report. There are a few numbers that are pretty startling.
We’ve discussed before that FinCEN is the executive agency tasked with ensuring that every US banker is an unpaid government spy through Suspicious Activity Reports.
A Suspicious Activity Report, or SAR, includes details of any transaction that may be deemed ‘suspicious’. Naturally, there’s no clear guidance on what is/is not considered suspicious. Banks, brokerages, money service businesses, precious metals dealers… even casinos are required by law to fill them out.
If you withdraw an unusual amount of cash from your bank account, that could be deemed suspicious. If you set up a new payee in your billpay service, that could be deemed suspicious. Anything and everything is fair game.
Banks and other businesses who do not fill out SARs face hefty penalties, including imprisonment. If they disclose to a customer that s/he is the subject of a SAR, they have hefty penalties, including imprisonment.
When push comes to shove and they have to choose between a nasty penalty, or submitting a SAR about your unusual cash withdrawal, which option do you think they’ll pick?
Unsurprisingly, nearly 1.5 million ‘suspicious activity reports’ were filed across the US banking system in 2011, well over twice the number reported in 2004. On top of this, there were an additional -14.8 million- ‘currency transaction reports’ filed in 2011, a 6% jump over last year.
It’s an unfortunate trend which highlights not only the end of financial privacy, but also the massive amount of data being collected by the government to keep tabs on its citizens.
According to this year’s report, a full 36 distinct federal law enforcement agencies requested information from FinCEN (and even more who haven’t). Three dozen. And that doesn’t include state or local law enforcement.
That there are this many federal law enforcement agencies to begin with is mind-boggling… let alone the thought that some knucklehead at the Fish and Wildlife Service has access to bank records.
This is one reason why international diversification is so important– the likelihood of such collection and monitoring is greatly reduced when you bank overseas. Moreover, should one of these dozens of agencies or courts decide that your ‘suspicious activity’ warrants locking you out of your accounts, they have zero jurisdiction overseas.
This is a common tactic in the US; financial activity is one of the many, many areas with a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ burden of proof. You don’t even need to be doing anything wrong (which is the case most of the time this happens) for one of these agencies to freeze your account ‘pending investigation’ with a simple phone call. Good luck getting it unfrozen.
They don’t have that kind of pull overseas. That’s why we’ve been writing for years to more than 100,000 subscribers that the most important thing you can do for your financial security is to have a foreign bank account, no matter where you’re from. Planting a ‘banking flag’ outside of your home country is a very prudent, simple insurance policy.
More and more people are starting to wake up to this reality. FinCEN also tracks the Report of Foreign Bank Account and Financial Accounts, commonly known as the FBAR. This form is required to be submitted by any US taxpayer with foreign financial accounts whose aggregate total exceeded $10,000 at any point during the year.
For example, if you have a bank account in Uruguay with $9,000, and a small brokerage account in Panama with $2,000, you would have to submit the form by June 30th of each year to the Treasury Department.
In 2011, 618,134 US taxpayers filed an FBAR (which would have covered the calendar year 2010). This is more than a 100% increase over the filings just two years ago… a huge jump. I suspect the 2012 figures will show similar growth.
As a percentage of the population, though, the number is embryonic. It still leaves 308,127,404 Americans who have no backup plan, no insurance policy for their hard-earned savings. In other words, 99.8% of the population holds all of their money in an insolvent, corrupted, government-controlled, unsecured (though cleverly disguised) banking system.
Are you one of the 0.2% who is paying attention? If not, what’s holding you back? I’d like to know.