BNA’s Michael J. Bologna and Paul Shukovsky have written a comprehensive article about a pervasive problem facing state tax auditors:  the use by restaurants and other cash-intensive businesses of electronic revenue suppression software, commonly referred to as “Zappers.”  We have previously blogged about efforts by state and federal tax authorities to crack down on the use of “Zapper” software here (reporting on the Connecticut Department of Revenue’s arrest of a New Haven restauranteur) and here (predicting a federal crackdown on tax zapper software).  In their article, entitled “Tax-Zapping Software Costing States $21 Billion,” Messrs. Bologna and Shukovsky note that the use of revenue suppression software by businesses costs states a whopping $21 billion in lost tax revenue.  In a related article, entitled “Zapper Fraud Case Results in Mandatory Real-Time Monitoring,” the authors describe the recent prosecution of a Bellevue, Washington restaurant owner which resulted in a “first-in-the-nation settlement requiring continuous monitoring by the state for five years,” the first time any state has ever required monitoring to resolve charges involving the use of “Zapper” software.

Statutory Background

When a foreign corporation receives dividends from U.S. sources, the income is generally subject to tax at 30%. To avoid double taxation and encourage cross-border investments, the U.S. has entered into bilateral tax treaties with numerous countries. The bilateral tax treaty between the U.S. and Switzerland entitles Swiss-resident entities to a reduction in the tax rate applied to dividends received from U.S. sources provided it meets the criteria enumerated in the treaty. If none of the requirements listed in treaty are satisfied, the U.S. Competent Authority (“CA”) may authorize a lower rate if it determines the Swiss entity was not established for the principal purpose of obtaining treaty benefits (the CA is the official within the Treasury Department who is authorized to interpret provisions of bilateral tax treaties). The principal purpose test is designed to prevent business from establishing tax residency in a country primarily to obtain treaty benefits (i.e. treaty shopping).

Starr’s Request for Treaty Benefits

Starr International Company Inc. (“Starr”), a Swiss resident company, was once the largest shareholder of the insurance giant AIG. In 2007, Starr, which did not meet any of the criteria for the reduced dividend tax rate in the U.S.-Swiss tax treaty, petitioned the IRS for a discretionary reduction in the tax rate applicable to approximately $191 million in dividends Starr received from AIG in 2007. The CA denied Starr’s request for treaty benefits because it concluded that obtaining Swiss treaty benefits was a principal purpose of Starr’s recent relocation to Switzerland. The CA pointed to Starr’s history in low-tax jurisdictions as suggesting that it sought to avoid U.S. tax: it initially incorporated in Panama, it was first managed and controlled from Bermuda, it briefly relocated to Ireland and finally settled in Switzerland.

Starr challenged the decision, but the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the CA’s denial of treaty benefits (see Starr International Company Inc. v. U.S. (120 AFTR 2d 2017-5488 (DC Dist Col, 8/14/2017)). Starr argued that it was not treaty shopping because Starr was a resident of Switzerland and treaty shopping always involves a resident of a country not party to the relevant tax treaty. However, the District Court rejected Starr’s definition of treaty shopping as narrow because Starr did not differentiate between “on paper” residency and bona fide residency required by the treaty. “On paper” residency is based on objective factors like domicile, nationality and place of management whereas bona fide residency is based on a substance-over-form determination that a taxpayer has a genuine connection to its “on paper” residence. Starr conceded that it was not a bona fide resident of Switzerland before it made its decision to establish residency in Switzerland and, according to the Court, in applying the principal purpose test, the CA properly looked beyond the objective factors of residency and properly concluded that Starr’s motivation for establishing bona fide residency was primarily motivated by obtaining the benefits of the U.S.-Swiss tax treaty.

Starr also argued that even if the CA applied the correct residency standard, it did not benefit from choosing Switzerland over Ireland or over its other finalists. However, the Court explained that the analysis is not limited to whether a company’s current jurisdiction is more favorable than its previous one, but rather why a company chose to establish itself in Switzerland over any other jurisdiction (a totality of the circumstances inquiry). In addition, the Court concluded that tax considerations were obviously important because Starr acknowledged that U.S. tax was one of four key criteria that the company analyzed in its decision to establish tax residency in Switzerland.

Two members of Congress have introduced a bill that would exempt from income tax transactions under $600 conducted using Bitcoin or other digital currencies. Currently, the Internal Revenue Service treats digital currencies like Bitcoin as property, meaning that on every transaction using Bitcoin, the taxpayer must recognize either a gain or loss for tax purposes depending on his or her basis in the digital currency and report such gain or loss on an income tax return. The IRS does not recognize any de minimus transaction amount, meaning that a taxpayer using Bitcoin to purchase a cup of coffee must recognize gain or loss on the transaction. Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), co-chairs of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, have introduced the Crytocurrency Tax Fairness Act of 2017 to exempt small purchases with digital currency up to $600 from tax reporting and burdensome recordkeeping requirements.

In a press release announcing the bill, Rep. Polis said that “[c]ryptocurrencies can be used for anything from buying a cup of coffee to paying for a car, to crowdfunding a new startup and more and more consumers are choosing to use this type of payment. To keep up with modern technology, we need to remove outdated restrictions on cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, and other methods of digital payment. By cutting red tape and eliminating onerous reporting requirements, it will allow cryptocurrencies to further benefit consumers and help create good jobs.”

Rep. Schweikert added that “[i]ndividuals all over the world are starting to use cryptocurrencies for small every day transactions, yet here in the States we have fallen behind and make cryptocurrency use more of a challenge than it needs to be. “With this simple legislative change, anyone can make digital payments to buy a newspaper or a bike without worrying about tax code challenges.”

According to their press release, Polis and Schweikert relaunched the Congressional Blockchain Caucus in February. The caucus educates, engages, and provides research to help policymakers implement smart regulatory approaches to the issues raised by blockchain-based technologies and networks. Blockchain is a decentralized distributed ledger that is the main technology powering cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. By using math and cryptography, blockchain supplies a decentralized database of every transaction involving value. This creates a record of authenticity that is verifiable by a user community, increasing transparency and reducing fraud. Crytocurrencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, are used for purchases, trade, and payment across the globe. The estimated value of the cryptocurrecy economy is $162 billion.

Meanwhile, the IRS is continuing its aggressive efforts to identify the users of digital currency through litigation involving a “John Doe summons” on Coinbase Inc., a leading virtual currency exchanger. The IRS believes that because virtual currency transactions are difficult to trace, offer relative anonymity, and lack third-party information reporting, taxpayers may be using them to hide taxable income.  In a press release announcing the John Doe summons, then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo, head of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, said that “[a]s the use of virtual currencies has grown exponentially, some have raised questions about tax compliance.  Tools like the John Doe summons authorized today send the clear message to U.S. taxpayers that whatever form of currency they use – bitcoin or traditional dollars and cents – we will work to ensure that they are fully reporting their income and paying their fair share of taxes.”  According to the IRS, there is a significant reporting gap between the number of virtual currency users reported by Coinbase during the period 2013 through 2015 and the total number of taxpayers reporting gains or losses to the IRS during that same period (807, 893, and 802, respectively). In addition, it has been reported that the IRS is utilizing Chainanalysis software to identify owners of virtual currencies.

The President has declared a major disaster in the State of Texas. The declaration permits the IRS to postpone certain deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the disaster area.

Individuals who reside or have a business in the following counties may qualify for tax relief: Aransas, Austin, Batrop, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Hardin, Harris, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Lee, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Polk, Refugio, Sabine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Tyler, Victoria, Walker, Waller and Wharton.

Taxpayers not in the covered disaster area, but whose records necessary to meet a deadline are in the disaster area are also entitled to relief. In addition, all relief workers affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization assisting in the relief activities in the disaster area and any individual visiting the covered disaster area who was killed or injured as a result of the disaster are entitled to relief.

The IRS gives the affected taxpayers until January 30, 2018 to file most tax returns (including individual, corporate, and estate and trust income tax returns; partnership returns, S corporation returns, and trust returns; estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax returns; and employment and certain excise tax returns), that have either an original or extended due date occurring on or after August 23, 2017, and before January 31, 2018. This includes taxpayers who had a valid extension to file their 2016 return that was due to run out on October 16, 2017. It also includes the quarterly estimated income tax payments originally due on September 15, 2017 and January 16, 2018, and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on October 31, 2017. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after August 23, 2017, and before September 7, 2017, will be abated as long as the deposits were made by September 7, 2017.

If an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date that falls within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the telephone number on the notice to have the IRS abate the penalty.

Casualty Losses

Affected taxpayers in a federally declared disaster area have the option of claiming disaster-related casualty losses on their federal income tax return for either the year in which the event occurred, or the prior year. Individuals may deduct personal property losses that are not covered by insurance or other reimbursements.

August brought three wins for taxpayers who donated conservation easements that were challenged by the IRS.  In all of the cases, terms of the conservation easement deed document carried the day. 

  • In BC Ranch II, L.P. v. Comm’r, No. 16-60068, 2017 BL 282040 (5th Cir. Aug. 11, 2017), the Fifth Circuit overturned a Tax Court decision finding that an easement deed allowing for small boundary adjustments violated the perpetuity requirement of Section 170(h)(2)(C).  The perpetuity requirement provides that, in order to qualify for a charitable contribution deduction for a conservation easement donation, a taxpayer must restrict, in perpetuity, the use which may be made of the real property.  The Fifth Circuit held that the Tax Court’s reliance in Belk  v. Comm’r, 140 T.C 1 (2013), aff’d 774 F.3d 2210 (4th Cir. 2014), to hold that the conservation easement restrictions violated the perpetuity requirement was misplaced because Belk involved a provision where the easement land could be substituted in its entirety for a new parcel of land.  The Fifth Circuit looked at similar cases where small adjustments to the easement were permitted to promote the underlying conservation purpose.  Because that was the case here, the court found that the perpetuity requirement was met.  Addressing the IRS alternative theory that the partners entered into disguised sales for partnership property, the court also determined that the portions of capital contributions made by partners, other than those attributable to the parcels that were distributed to them, were not disguised sales of partnership assets.  
  • Next, in 310 Retail, LLC, v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2017-164, and Big River Development, L.P. v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2017-166, the Tax Court held that the conservation easement deeds at issue met the contemporary written acknowledgement requirement set forth in Section 170(f)(8)(B).  The contemporary written acknowledgement provision requires that, in order to claim a charitable contribution deduction, the donor is required to obtain from the charity a written statement that describes the donation, states whether the charity provides goods and services in exchange for the donation, and, if goods and services were provided, the fair market value of those goods and service.  This documentation must be obtained before the earlier of the due date of the return or the date the return in filed.  In both cases, the donor did not obtain from the charity separate documentation that is traditionally sent to donees with this specific language.  However, because the conservation easement deeds contained language discussing the consideration given and stating that the deed was the complete agreement of the parties (known as a merger clause), the deed itself acknowledged that the charity did not provide goods and services to the donor and therefore satisfied the contemporaneous written acknowledgement requirements. 
  • In all three cases, while the taxpayers now presumably have established the right to claim the charitable contribution deduction, the next step of determining the value of the conservation easement will be a separate battle.

August 29, 2017Law360

An unusual feature of this latest bank resolution is what the Justice Department characterizes as Prime Partners’ “voluntary and extraordinary cooperation” with the U.S. government. In early 2009, Prime Partners voluntarily implemented a series of remedial measures to stop assisting U.S. taxpayers in evading federal income taxes, before the initiation of any investigation by the U.S. government. The timing of these corrective actions is particularly notable, as the Justice Department announced its landmark deferred prosecution agreement with UBS AG, the largest bank in Switzerland, in February 2009, and the Internal Revenue Service unveiled its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program approximately 30 days later. In the midst of the announcement of the UBS resolution, many other Swiss banks were advising their U.S. clients to transfer their account holdings to other, smaller Swiss banks in order to avoid detection by U.S. authorities, thereby creating a class of U.S. taxpayers now labeled by authorities as “leavers.” In stark contrast, it appears that Prime Partners embarked on a different course of conduct, implementing corrective action to avoid further violations of U.S. law.

The Justice Department appears to have taken great care to describe publicly the extent of Prime Partners’ extensive cooperation, which included the following:

  • Prime Partners’ voluntary production of approximately 175 client files for noncompliant U.S. taxpayers, which included the identities of those U.S. taxpayers;
  • Prime Partners’ willingness to continue to cooperate to the extent permitted by applicable law; and
  • Prime Partners’ representation — based on an investigation by outside counsel, the results of which have been reviewed by the Justice Department — that the misconduct under investigation did not, and does not, extend beyond that described in a statement of facts accompanying the non-prosecution agreement.

Another notable aspect of this case is that while Prime Partners is a Swiss institution, it did not take advantage of the popular yet now-closed “Swiss Bank Program,” which essentially offered amnesty to any Swiss financial institution willing to come forward and make full disclosure of its cross-border activities involving U.S. citizens. Nearly 80 Swiss institutions enrolled in the Swiss Bank Program and successfully resolved their potential exposure under U.S. tax laws by paying steep financial penalties and agreeing to fully cooperate with the U.S. government’s ongoing investigations of offshore tax evasion. Instead of enrolling in the Swiss Bank Program, Prime Partners appears to have conducted an internal investigation, voluntarily disclosed its misconduct to the Justice Department, cooperated with the subsequent government investigation, and attempted to negotiate the best possible deal it could. Prime Partners may have been prompted to undertake such action based upon what the Justice Department has publicly stated is its “willingness to reach fair and appropriate resolutions with entities that come forward in a timely manner, disclose all relevant information regarding their illegal activities and cooperate fully and completely, including naming the individuals engaged in criminal conduct.”

The Justice Department’s announcement that it agreed to a nonprosecution agreement with Prime Partners is no doubt a signal to other financial institutions (both Swiss and non-Swiss) that the voluntary disclosure “window” remains open (notwithstanding the termination of the Swiss Bank Program), and that institutions voluntarily disclosing their wrongdoing and demonstrating substantial cooperation — like that of Prime Partners — will be treated leniently.

Indeed, in a press release announcing the resolution Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated that “[t]he resolution of this matter through a non-prosecution agreement, along with forfeiture and restitution, reflects the extraordinary cooperation provided by Prime Partners to our investigation. It should serve as proof that cooperation has tangible benefits.” In the same vein, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg said that “[i]n our ongoing investigations, we will continue to draw on information from a variety of sources and to provide substantial credit to those around the globe who provide full and timely cooperation regarding the identity of U.S. tax cheats and the phony trusts and shell companies they seek to hide behind.” At the same time, the Justice Department will undoubtedly seek to punish — to the fullest extent possible under U.S. laws — financial institutions that have aided and abetted tax evasion by their U.S. customers and that fail to come forward voluntarily and cooperatively.

Finally, the Justice Department’s resolution with Prime Partners stands as yet another stern warning to taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts that they must take corrective action immediately or face harsh consequences. In the press release, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg said “[t]he message is clear to those using foreign bank accounts to engage in schemes to evade U.S. taxes – you can no longer assume your ‘secret’ accounts will remain concealed, no matter where they are located. In our ongoing investigations, we will continue to draw on information from a variety of sources and to provide substantial credit to those around the globe who provide full and timely cooperation regarding the identity of U.S. tax cheats and the phony trusts and shell companies they seek to hide behind.” The Internal Revenue Service’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program remains available to taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets, although the penalty for account holders at Prime Partners will now increase from 27.5 percent to 50 percent.

Reprinted with permission from Law360. (c) 2017 Portfolio Media. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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This article is Part II of a series in which we address the U.S. government’s attempts to combat money laundering in real estate transactions. Part I is available here.

On August 22, 2017, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued revised Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) requiring title insurance companies, and their subsidiaries and agents, to collect and report information about certain residential real estate transactions in the following jurisdictions: (1) all boroughs of New York City; (2) Miami-Dade County and the two counties immediately to the north (Broward and Palm Beach); (3) Los Angeles County, California; (4) three counties comprising part of the San Francisco area (San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties); (5) San Diego County, California; (6) the county that includes San Antonio, Texas (Bexar County); and (7) the City and County of Honolulu in Hawaii. In this article, which address the additional reporting and recordkeeping requirements imposed upon businesses that engage in transactions covered by the terms of the revised GTOs.

Which Title Insurance Companies Are Impacted by the Revised GTOs?

Any title insurance company, and its subsidiaries and agents, is deemed to be a “Covered Business” subject to the terms of the revised GTOs. In addition, each Covered Business must supervise, and is responsible for, compliance by each of its officers, directors, employees, and agents with the terms of the revised GTOs. Each Covered Business must transmit a copy of the revised GTO to each of its agents. Each Covered Business must also transmit a copy of the revised GTO to its Chief Executive Officer or other similarly acting manager.

What Type of Transactions Are Covered by the Revised GTOs?

A real estate transaction that is considered a “Covered Transaction” is subject to the revised GTOs. In order for a transaction to be “covered,” it must meet all of the following requirements:

  1. A “Legal Entity” (which is defined as a corporation, limited liability company, partnership, or other similar business entity, whether formed under the laws of a state or of the U.S. or a foreign jurisdiction) purchases residential real property:
    • For a total purchase price of $500,000 or more in the Texas county of Bexar;
    • For a total purchase price of $1,000,000 or more in the Florida county of Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach;
    • For a total purchase price of $1,500,000 or more in the Borough of Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, or Staten Island in New York City, New York;
    • For a total purchase price of $2,000,000 or more in the California county of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Mateo, or Santa Clara;
    • For a total purchase price of $3,000,000 or more in the Borough of Manhattan in New York City, New York; or
    • For a total purchase price of $3,000,000 or more in the City and County of Honolulu in Hawaii; and
  1. Such purchase is made without a bank loan or other similar form of external financing; and
  2. Such 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, or a funds transfer.

For purposes of the revised GTOs, “residential real property” means real property (including individual units of condominiums and cooperatives) designed principally for the occupancy of from one to four families.

Payment of at least part of the purchase price using one of these methods, such as 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 three criteria listed above are met.

Importantly, FinCEN has made clear that there is no de minimis exception to any of the methods of payment covered by the revised GTOs. If any part of the purchase price was made using one of the specified methods of payment in the revised GTOs, then the transaction is considered a Covered Transaction (assuming the other three criteria are met). FinCEN expects a Covered Business to take reasonable steps to determine whether any part of the purchase price was made using one of the specified methods of payment. FinCEN recognizes that in some instances a small percent of the purchase price of a residential real estate transaction may be held by a third party, such as a real estate agent holding an earnest money deposit. A Covered Business may reasonably rely on information provided to it by such third parties.

What Information Is Required To Be Reported Pursuant to the GTOs?

If the Covered Business is involved in a Covered Transaction, then the Covered Business shall report the Covered Transaction to FinCEN by filing a FinCEN Form 8300, which is entitled “Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business.” This form must be filed within 30 days of the closing of the Covered Transaction. Each FinCEN Form 8300 filed pursuant to the revised GTOs must be (i) completed in accordance with the terms of the revised GTOs and FinCEN Form 8300 instructions (although when such terms conflict, the terms of the revised GTOs apply), and (ii) e-filed through the Bank Secrecy Act E-filing system.

Each Form 8300 filed pursuant to the revised GTOs shall contain the following information about the Covered Transaction:

Part I shall contain information about the identity of the individual primarily responsible for representing the Purchaser, which refers to the individual authorized by the entity to enter legally binding contracts on behalf of the entity. The Covered Business must obtain and record a copy of this individual’s driver’s license, passport, or other similar identifying documentation. A description of such documentation must be provided in Field 14 of the form.

Part II shall contain information about the identity of the Purchaser, which refers to the Legal Entity that is purchasing residential real property as part of a Covered Transaction. The Covered Business should select Field 15 on the FinCEN Form 8300, which will enable reporting of multiple parties under Part II of the form.

Part II shall also contain information about the identity of the Beneficial Owner(s) of the Purchaser. “Beneficial Owner” means each individual who, directly or indirectly, owns 25 percent or more of the equity interests of the Purchaser. The Covered Business must obtain and record a copy of the Beneficial Owner’s driver’s license, passport, or other similar identifying documentation. A description of such documentation must be provided in Field 27 of the form.

Part III shall contain information about the Covered Transaction as follows:

  • Field 28: Date of closing of the Covered Transaction.
  • Field 29: Total amount transferred using currency or a cashier’s check, a certified check, a personal check, a business check, or a money order in any form.
  • Field 31: Total purchase price of the Covered Transaction.
  • Field 34: Address of real property involved in the Covered Transaction.

With respect to information required to be reported in Field 29 of the Form 8300, the Covered Business should include the total amount of the purchase price, if any, that was paid 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. With respect to information required to be reported in Field 31, the Covered Business should include the total purchase price, if different from the amount included in Field 29.

Part IV shall contain information about the Covered Business.

The Comments section to the Form 8300 shall contain the following information:

  • The term “REGTO” as a unique identifier for this Order.
  • If the purchaser involved in the Covered Transaction is a limited liability company, then the Covered Business must provide the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of all its members.
  • If a Form 8300 is being filed by an agent of the Covered Business named in this Order, then the agent shall include the name of such Covered Business.

When Are the Revised GTOs Effective?

The revised GTOs are effective beginning on September 22, 2017, and ending on March 20, 2018 (unless they are further extended by FinCEN).

What Records Relating to the Revised GTOs Must Be Retained?

Consistent with the general recordkeeping provisions of the regulations promulgated under the Bank Secrecy Act, each Covered Business must (1) retain all records relating to compliance with the revised GTOs for a period of five years from the last day that the GTOs are effective (including any renewals); (2) store such records in a manner accessible within a reasonable period of time; and (3) make such records available to FinCEN or any other appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency, upon request.

What Are the Penalties for Noncompliance with the Revised GTOs?

Each Covered Business, and any of its officers, directors, employees, and agents, may be held liable for civil or criminal penalties for violating any of the terms of the revised GTOs.

What Procedures Should Covered Businesses Implement to Ensure Compliance with the Revised GTOs?

To assist Covered Businesses in complying with the revised GTOs, FinCEN has published an updated list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) in response to inquiries it has received. In those FAQs, FinCEN states that it expects a Covered Business to implement procedures reasonably designed to ensure compliance with the terms of the GTOs, including reasonable due diligence to determine whether it (or its subsidiaries or agents) is involved in a Covered Transaction and to collect and report the required information. In complying with the terms of the GTOs, a Covered Business may reasonably rely on information provided to it by third parties, including other parties involved in Covered Transactions. Covered Businesses may also contact the FinCEN Resource Center at (800) 767-2825.

To What Extent Must a Covered Business Verify Information About the Beneficial Owner of a Purchaser?

The revised GTOs require a Covered Business to collect and report certain identifying information about the Beneficial Owner(s) of the Purchaser in a Covered Transaction. For purposes of the GTOs, a “Beneficial Owner” means each individual who, directly or indirectly, owns 25 percent or more of the equity interests of the Purchaser. The GTOs provide that the Covered Business must obtain and record a copy of the Beneficial Owner’s driver’s license, passport, or other similar identifying documentation. The Covered Business may reasonably rely on the information provided to it by third parties involved in the Covered Transaction, including the Purchaser or its representatives, in determining whether the individual identified as a Beneficial Owner is in fact a Beneficial Owner.

Who Is Considered a Covered Business’s “Agents” for Purposes of the Revised GTOs?

“Agents” of a Covered Business refer 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). FinCEN notes that the recordkeeping and reporting requirements under the GTOs are triggered only when a Covered Business (or its subsidiaries or agents) is involved in a Covered Transaction by providing title insurance underwritten by that Covered Business (or its subsidiaries) in connection with the Covered Transaction.

FinCEN also recognizes that a person or entity may be an independent agent of a Covered Business, and thus may act on behalf of multiple title insurance companies. A Covered Business is responsible for the recordkeeping and reporting requirements under the revised GTOs only when such agents are acting on its behalf in connection with a Covered Transaction.

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