Excerpt from the SAR Activity Review
Analysis of Suspicious Activity Report (SAR)
Inquiries Received by FinCENís Regulatory
Helpline By FinCENís Office of Outreach Resources
FinCEN operates a Regulatory Helpline that provides assistance for institutions
seeking clarification of their BSA requirements and obligations. The following
information highlights the types of questions institutions raised with the Regulatory
Helpline about suspicious activity reporting during a changing period of U.S.
financial and economic activity. During the period of July 1, 2008 through June 20,
2009, the Regulatory Helpline received 1,634 inquiries from a variety of institutions
located across the country.11
Suspicious Activity Report (SAR): Sharing and Disclosure
Institutions frequently seek the guidance of FinCENís Regulatory Helpline when law
enforcement and regulatory authorities request SAR information and supporting
documentation. To aid institutions in responding to such requests, FinCEN
issued guidance in June 2007 entitled, Suspicious Activity Report Supporting
Documentation (FIN-2007-G003). The guidance explains:
One common industry question relates to the proper disclosure of SAR information.
It may involve instances when SAR information is requested to support a civil
case or when someone other than an appropriate law enforcement or supervisory
authority makes the request. Guidance on this subject is available in a previous SAR
Activity Review (see The SAR Activity Review Issue 7 (August 2004), Section 4).
- When and how to disclose SAR information to appropriate aw enforcement
and supervisory agencies;
- What constitutes supporting documentation; and,
- Whether a legal process is required for the disclosure of supporting
documentation to appropriate requesters.
SAR Filing Requirements
Financial institutions frequently seek clarification regarding when an institution
has an obligation to file a SAR. Because filing a SAR is an inherently risk-based
decision based upon specific facts and circumstances, institutions should have
policies, procedures and processes for referring unusual activity from all business
lines to the personnel or department responsible for evaluating such activity.
Within those procedures, institutions should establish a clear and defined escalation
process from the point of initial detection to disposition of the investigation. To
assist in this internal effort, institutions may refer to resources such as the FFIEC
BSA/AML Examination Manual, Suspicious Activity Reporting Overview, SAR
Decision-Making Process. Some of the common questions regarding SAR filing
Q: Explain the definitions and characterizations of suspicious activity in the SAR form.
Institutions can find helpful explanations for the various characterizations
of suspicious activity that appear in Item 35 of the depository institution
Suspicious Activity Report form in The SAR Activity Review Issue 12 (October
2007), Section 4.
Q: Clarify the application of the SAR thresholds and whether to file on attempted
Institutions are required to file on transactions conducted or attempted by,
at, or through the institution (or an affiliate) and aggregating above a certain
threshold (based on the specific industry),15 if the institution knows, suspects,
or has reason to suspect that the transaction:
Assistance with the SAR Form
- May involve potential money laundering or other illegal activity (e.g.,
- Is designed to evade the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) or its implementing
- Has no apparent business or lawful purpose or is not the type of transaction
in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage;
and the bank knows of no reasonable explanation for the transaction after
examining the available facts, including the background and possible
purpose of the transaction.
Institutions routinely pose questions regarding the appropriate way to complete
certain fields on the SAR forms. The following guidance pieces provide helpful
answers for form assistance:
FinCENís Regulatory Helpline provides helpful assistance for institutions seeking
clarification of their Bank Secrecy Act requirements. Institutions can reach the
Regulatory Helpline at 800-949-2732.
All information provided in this publication has been aggregated to ensure each individual
This category includes money transmitters; currency dealers and exchangers; check cashers; issuers,
sellers, and redeemers of travelerís checks, money orders, and stored value; and, (for certain
activities) the United States Postal Service.
This category includes inquiries from undetermined institution types and requests from law
enforcement regarding general SAR requirements.
This category includes all other non-bank financial institutions and businesses, such as mutual
funds, commodity trading advisors, pawn shops, jewelers, real estate companies, vehicle sellers,
and other businesses.
Further clarification of industry-specific requirements can be found under 31 C.F.R. Part 103 and on
the industry-specific SAR forms.