Humanoids are stupid. Laugh at them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Right now, feds might be looking into your finances: Banks tip off government to possible money laundering, fraud

WASHINGTON — Each year, federal agents peek at the financial transactions of millions of Americans — without their knowledge.

As concerns about fraud and terrorist financing grow, an increasing number of suspicious deposits, withdrawals and money transfers are being reported by banks and others to the federal government. Banks and credit unions as well as currency dealers and stores that cash checks reported a record 17.6 million transactions to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in 2006, according to a report from the network, a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department.

"I don't think Americans understand that their financial transactions are being reported and routinely examined," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Teams of agents from the FBI, IRS, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies regularly review newly filed financial reports and launch investigations. Federal and local authorities search the database to find information about people that can help ongoing probes. Treasury Department analysts study the reports to detect trends in fraud and issue reports alerting financial institutions.

"The government has access to untold volumes of records and can draw all sorts of conclusions about us, and many are going to be wrong," Steinhardt said.

Bankers disagree. "For the typical bank customer, this means very little because there's nothing they're doing that's likely to be viewed as out of the ordinary," said Richard Riese, head of regulatory compliance for the American Bankers Association.
The reporting system dates to the early 1970s when federal agents sought to pinpoint drug dealers by looking for people making large cash deposits.

Far more controversial are secret "suspicious activity reports" filed by financial institutions and reviewed by teams of agents spread around the country. The investigation of Spitzer began when a bank spotted potentially suspicious transfers from several accounts and filed reports with the IRS, according to a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official did not want his name used because he's not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The number of suspicious activity reports soared from 413,000 in 2003 to 1 million in 2006, according to the enforcement network.


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