These days, we’re taught to “say something” if we “see something.” Everything can be considered “suspicious activity.”
For people in a more official capacity, there’s incentive to over-report. If something happens, and it turns out that an official could have notified police beforehand of anything “suspicious,” but didn’t, that official could get in serious trouble.
Just think about how medical or mental health professionals have to report anything “suspicious” to law enforcement. If a patient says something that might perhaps indicate that he could possibly be a danger to himself or others, the doctor has to say something to police, so that they can further investigate and confiscate any weapons that he might have.
It’s not any different in the financial world. Banks have to report anything that they deem “suspicious.” What’s suspicious? Withdrawing large amounts of cash. If you do withdraw large amounts of cash, or if you carry large amounts of cash, that means you’re a criminal or even a terrorist. Or worse, a tax cheat.
Let’s say you’re looking to buy a used car for $5,000. The seller wants cash only. So, you go to your bank to make the withdrawal, and the teller balks and questions you as to why you need to withdraw that much of your own money. You can try telling them it’s none of their beeswax, but that’ll only raise their suspicions all the more. If they’re for any reason suspicious of you, they must notify the feds on a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR).
Now, the DOJ is instructing banks to do more than just report it on an SAR. They want banks to go straight to the local police to have them investigate you and possibly seize your funds. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The U.S. Justice Department’s criminal head said banks may need to go beyond filing suspicious activity reports when they encounter a risky customer.
“The vast majority of financial institutions file suspicious activity reports when they suspect that an account is connected to nefarious activity,” said assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell in a Monday speech, according to prepared remarks. “But, in appropriate cases, we encourage those institutions to consider whether to take more action: specifically, to alert law enforcement authorities about the problem.”
The remarks indicate that banks may be expected to do more than just file SARs, a responsibility that itself can be expensive and time-consuming.
Some banks already have close relationships with law enforcement, said Kevin Rosenberg, chair of Goldberg Lowenstein & Weatherwax LLP’s government investigation and white collar litigation group. Ms. Caldwell’s remarks “speak to moving forward in a more collaborative way,” said Mr. Rosenberg.
A tip-off from a bank about a suspicious customer could lead law enforcement to seize funds or start an investigation, Ms. Caldwell said.
The Code of Federal Regulations documents their rules for when and how to report “suspicious activity” here, in §1020.320 particularly.
How did we let things get this bad in this country? In order to function normally in this society, you pretty much have to have a bank account. You hire a bank to store your money for you, and they use your money to loan out to other customers. But if you want to withdraw a certain amount that’s considered “high,” (never mind the fact that it’s your money) they’ll tell you they don’t have it, or that it’s not available at that point, and they’ll question you as to why you want your money. We trust them to keep our money safe, but they won’t let us have any of it, if we want to withdraw it. Something’s wrong with that.
Governments don’t like cash, because it’s not nearly as easy to track as 1’s and 0’s in a computer. They want everything done electronically, and if anyone dares to use cash, it raises red flags with government officials.