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Obama Justice Dept. Floats New Plan to Push Banks to Inform on Customers

Obama’s Department of Justice has announced new plans to give banks more power to inform on customers’ “nefarious activity” and trigger immediate investigations by federal or local authorities.

One of the ways that banks currently flag the possibility of suspicious activities of their customers is to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) with the federal government. After an SAR is filed, it can sometimes take weeks, even months to see results on a suspicious bank account.

But now the Justice Dept. wants to make it easier for banks to inform on customers. DOJ is now urging banks to contact local or federal law enforcement officials about their concerns.

“The vast majority of financial institutions file suspicious activity reports when they suspect that an account is connected to nefarious activity,” assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell said on Monday. “But, in appropriate cases, we encourage those institutions to consider whether to take more action: specifically, to alert law enforcement authorities about the problem.”

Caldwell’s remarks seem to indicate that the DOJ is going to expect banks to take a more active role in ferreting out criminal activity.

The alarm from a bank could result in the confiscation of a customer’s cars, homes, and assets even ahead of any full investigation into suspicious activities.

The call by the DOJ for banks to increase their level of vigilance, though, has raised concerns of some who feel that the criteria for calling authorities on customers is too loose and indistinct.

Some worry that “basically anything” can lead to a bank siccing law enforcement on customers.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com

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