On November 15, 2018, the U.S. Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the issuance of revised Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) that require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used in all-cash purchases of residential real estate. The purchase amount threshold, which previously varied by city, is now set at $300,000 for each covered metropolitan area. FinCEN is also requiring that covered purchases using virtual currencies be reported.
Prior GTOs resulted in valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons implicated, or allegedly involved, in various illicit enterprises including foreign corruption, organized crime,fraud, narcotics trafficking, and other violations. Reissuing the GTOs will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity, as well as inform FinCEN’s future regulatory efforts in this sector.
The latest GTOs cover certain counties within the following major U.S. metropolitan areas: Boston; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Honolulu;Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle.
FinCEN also realized Frequently Asked Questions. The FAQs explain that one of the four criteria that triggers a Covered Transaction, is that “(s)uch purchase is made, at least in part,using currency or a cashier’s check, a certified check, a traveler’s check, a personal check, a business check, or a money order in any form, a funds transfer, or virtual currency.” Accordingly, payment of at least part of the purchase price using one of these methods, such as virtual currency, a wire transfer, a cashier’s check (sometimes referred to as a “bank check,” “official check,” or “treasurer’s check”), a personal check, a business check, or a certified check, triggers a Covered Transaction, assuming the other criteria to trigger a GTO are met: “residential real property”; foreign beneficial owner,which means each individual who,directly or indirectly, owns 25% or more of the equity interests of the Purchaser; and a Covered Business’s “agents” refers to people or entities that are authorized by the Covered Business, usually through a contractual relationship, to act on its behalf to provide title insurance underwritten by the Covered Business (or its subsidiaries).
The U.K. already has initiated a New Beneficial Ownership Register for UK Properties owned by Overseas Companies and other Legal Entities that will go live in 2021. The British Columbia government has released regulations to create a new condo and strata assignment register, in part in response to the significant number of foreign purchases of residences, some of which appear to be connected to proceeds of crime. With the international developments and the continuing extension of the GTOs by FinCEN, pressure is building for the GTOs to become permanent.