Written by Shari R. Pogach, Regulatory Paralegal
If you need some help with the new Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), the 22nd edition of FinCEN’s SAR Activity Review – Trends Tips & Issues (SAR Activity Review) is a good reference source. Three articles located in the Issues & Guidance section of this edition offer guidance on completing the electronic FinCEN SAR.
The agency’s Analysis of Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) Inquiries Received by FinCEN’s Regulatory Helpline, on page 24, has guidance, instructions and other information for credit unions on the appropriate way to complete a FinCEN SAR. There’s a special focus in this article on how to complete a specific “Step” or “Item” with the new form.
The second article, Suspicious Activity Report (SAR): Back to the Basics, starting on page 35, discusses SAR narrative in relation to the electronic form. Although the narrative is still considered a critical component of a SAR filing, the number of allowed characters in the electronic form is less than that allowed in the old forms. The reason for this change is you can now include a spreadsheet attachment as part of the narrative but the agency says this is to be a part of the narrative, not a substitute.
The article also discusses “critical” fields on the form. The BSA E-Filing System won’t accept filings that leave such fields blank as the boxes are necessary for technical purposes. Credit unions must either put in the information or check the “unknown” (Unk.) box if provided for a critical field. FinCEN states:
“This unknown box will supersede FinCEN’s previous guidance requesting that filers input “NOT APPLICABLE,” “UNKNOWN,” “NONE,” or “XX” in certain fields. For those fields that are not marked as “critical” for technical filing purposes, the BSA E-Filing System will accept reports in which these fields have been left blank.”
However, FinCEN still expects you to provide the most complete filing information available to you. And, even when it is not a “critical” field you should input the correct information or check off the “unknown” box.
On page 38, Writing Effective SAR Narratives, offers help to filers on writing more effective SAR narratives, using the reporting of suspicious activity concerning potentially unregistered money service businesses (MSBs) and counterfeit checks. In addition, there are actual examples in each instance of an effective versus a less effective narrative.