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The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issued Geographic Targeting Orders requiring several title insurance underwriters to identify the names of individuals involved in shell companies and other legal entities that make all-cash purchases for high-end residential real estate in Manhattan, N.Y., and Miami-Dade County, Fla.
FinCEN is concerned that all-cash transactions in these areas are being used by individuals to hide their assets and identity by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies or other opaque structures. To help mitigate this potential money-laundering vulnerability, FinCEN will require certain underwriters to identify and report the true “beneficial owner” behind a legal entity involved in certain high-end deals in these two areas. The reporting requirement also pertains to the underwriters’ subsidiaries and agents.
NPR interviewed ALTA CEO Michelle Korsmo about the order. Below is audio of NPR's article, which includes a portion of the interview with Korsmo. She can be heard at the 2:17 mark.
Transaction Requirements to File Report with FinCEN
Any underwriters that received the order must file a currency transaction report with FinCEN if these things occur:
The report must include:
If the purchase involved in the covered transaction is a limited liability company, the underwriter must provide the name, address and taxpayer identification number of all its members.
Additionally, covered title companies must retain all records relating to compliance with the order for five years, store the records so they are accessible with a reasonable period of time and make the data available to FinCEN or other law enforcement or regulatory agency, upon request.
The term of this order expires in 180 days, but FinCEN may indefinitely renew the order for another six months and for additional areas.
FinCEN said title insurance companies play a central role in real estate transactions and can provide valuable information about potential illegal activities.
“FinCEN appreciates the assistance and cooperation of the title insurance companies and the American Land Title Association in protecting the real estate markets from abuse by illicit actors,” FinCEN said in a release.
ALTA is actively assisting our members to comply with these reporting requirements. Korsmo said "ALTA looks forward to continuing its work with FinCEN as members implement the order to help prevent money laundering schemes and the illegal purchase of real estate in the United States. As the independent third-party at the closing table, ALTA members work to safeguard the real estate transaction for millions of Americans every year. Our work with FinCEN underscores ALTA members’ commitment to providing a compliant real estate settlement experience.”
ALTA has already submitted a letter to FinCEN’s director asking for several clarifications to promote consistency in reporting and help the industry better understand which transactions are covered by the order.
ALTA Seeks Clarification of Orders from FinCEN
ALTA proposes FinCEN adopt RESPA’s definition for “residential.” Industry familiarity with definitions and regulatory scheme provided by RESPA will help title companies identify transactions covered by the order.
ALTA recommends that the definition of “Legal Entity” exclude trusts. The order defines the term “Legal Entity” as a corporation, limited liability company, partnership or other similar business entity.” According to the letter, ALTA said that unlike a corporation, a trust is not considered a separate legal entity under the common law of various states. Adopting this recommendation will provide a definition consistent with those used by the industry for purposes of determining how to effectively transfer title.
ALTA also suggests that the definition of “agents” refer only to people or entities with a contractual relationship with the covered title company. State insurance laws require insurers to appoint agents via a specific written contract or authorization. This will help the insurers consistently determine which business partners they must educate and supervise to comply with the order.
“We urge FinCEN to use a reasonable and good-faith test for determining insurers’ compliance with this order,” ALTA wrote in its letter. “We believe the clarifications requested and joint education with the insurer and FinCEN, should ensure that all covered transactions that the insurer is aware of will be reported; however, even with the best efforts of title insurers, there may be transactions of which the insurer is not made aware.”
To aid compliance, title professionals are encouraged to have a better understanding of the types of customers they do business with. Real estate agents and attorneys should be resources to help gather information about corporate entities purchasing real estate.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued a consent order against Henry Schein Practice Solutions, Inc. (Schein), a software provider for dental practices, for allegedly marketing its software using deceptive assertions. The FTC fined Schein $250,000 for alleged false marketing advertisements related to the level of encryption the company provided to protect patient health data.
Schein advertised that its software provided industry-standard encryption methods to protect sensitive patient information as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). However, the FTC alleged that Schein was aware that its software did not comport to the Advanced Encryption Standard, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recognizes as the industry standard that meets the regulatory data encryption obligations under HIPPA. By failing to meet the encryption standards identified by the NIST, Schein was found to have misled patients about the level of protection its software provided.
The significant fine the FTC assessed for Schein’s deceptive marketing correlates with the type of data Schein was encrypting. “Strong encryption is critical for companies dealing with sensitive health information,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If a company promises strong encryption, it should deliver it.”
The primary lesson that title insurance and settlement companies should take from this consent order is the importance of clearly and accurately identifying encryption methods. When marketing software qualifications or security, it is better to be specific about what the software is capable of doing instead of using puffery or broad statements. Implying that the services meet certain regulatory standards may be seen as deceptive, as Schein’s advertising was found by the FTC in this case.
Question: How do we address issues that come up during a walkthrough? For example, if the water heater is leaking and the parties want to escrow $1,000 for it to be repaired. Does the Closing Disclosure have to be revised and does the lender need to redisclose?
Answer: Prior to the consummation or closing, the Closing Disclosure should be updated with the best information reasonably available to the lender. If any issues arise from a walkthrough that require a monetary adjustment, the Closing Disclosure should be updated to reflect this adjustment prior to closing.
Although the walkthrough may necessitate a revised copy of the Closing Disclosure, the changes may not necessitate an additional three-day waiting period between delivery of the Closing Disclosure and closing. There are only three circumstances (§ 1026.19(f)(ii)) that trigger a new three-day waiting period:
This is why it is important to work with real estate partners to ensure those adjustments are sent to the lender and settlement agent as soon as possible after they come to light. While the change may not trigger a new three-day period, lenders may require a few hours to approve the change, determine its impact on the APR and update the disclosures.
ALTA created the Homebuyer Guide to help members easily communicate the benefit of owner’s title insurance. The Homebuyer Guide includes more than 60 marketing resources available for direct-to-consumer communication. These materials are available to members.
In this post, we focus on how you can use the various rack cards that are available. What is a rack card? These documents are used for advertising, frequently in convenience stores, hotels, restaurants, rest areas and other locations that get significant foot traffic. Rack cards typically have an appealing graphic design and are 4-by-9 inches in size.
ALTA has created three rack cards available to members to provide to consumers and real estate partners. Click here to view all the material available in the Homebuyer Guide.
How to Use: This rack card can be displayed in the closing office or real estate office, or be hand delivered when meeting with homebuyers. Below is the top of the front of this card:
How to Use: Real estate agents can use “The Homebuyer Checklist: 10 Steps to Buy Your Home with Confidence” PowerPoint in conjunction with this rack card. It can also be displayed in the real estate office. An example of the to half of the back of this rack card is below:
How to Use: Pin this to the company fridge, share it with a fellow title professional or use it as a guide for remembering the top three things you give homebuyers. Below is what the top of this marketing piece looks like:
The implementation of the CFPB’s Know Before You Owe regulation has brought up a number of questions regarding who is permitted to receive copies of closing documents, including the Closing Disclosure and alternate settlement statements, such as the ALTA Settlement Statements. It is important to note that the Know Before You Owe regulation did not implement any changes on data privacy; however, ALTA encourages title insurance and settlement companies to take this opportunity to review your company’s privacy policies to ensure they match your data-sharing practices.
Refresher on Governing Law
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) was passed in 1999 and remains the predominant authority on how to protect data. GLBA requires financial institutions, including title insurance companies and agents, to disclose their data-sharing practices to their customers and to safeguard private and sensitive customer information. To meet these new requirements, GLBA imposed three basic obligations:
The GLBA tasked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies that regulate financial institutions to implement regulations to carry out the Act's financial privacy provisions. The CFPB is not included in the list of government agencies that regulate data privacy, and thus the implementation of the Know Before You Owe regulation did not affect the longstanding data-security requirements that title insurance companies and agents have been subject to.
With the implementation of GLBA, the FTC released guidance regarding the type of information companies should be safeguarding. The FTC is responsible for enforcing its Privacy of Consumer Financial Information Rule, which protects a consumer's "nonpublic personal information" (NPI). NPI is any "personally identifiable financial information" that a financial institution collects about an individual in connection with providing a financial product or service, unless that information is otherwise "publicly available. The Privacy Rule applies to ALTA members that provide real estate settlement services.
ALTA members should note that the FTC considers NPI to be any information obtained about an individual from a transaction involving a company’s services. This could include a person’s name, address, income, Social Security number or other information on an application. This also includes any information from court records or from a consumer report. The FTC said NPI does not include information that is believed to be lawfully made "publicly available." In other words, information is not NPI when steps have been taken to determine: (1) that the information is generally made lawfully available to the public; and (2) that the individual can direct that it not be made public and has not done so.
Applying Standards to Today’s Real Estate Transactions
The implementation of the CFPB’s Know Before You Owe regulation has required lenders, real estate settlement agents, and title insurance professionals to radically change the way they conduct business. The new regulation’s disclosure requirements have also generated a greater need to use additional settlement statements, such as ALTA’s model Settlement Statements, to ensure that settlement agents can continue to meet their state disclosure requirements. With the use of these new forms comes the question, “Who is allowed to receive a copy of the Closing Disclosure and settlement statement?”
The basic answer is that the Know Before You Owe regulation does not address who may or may not receive a copy of closing documents. Many lenders, however, are refusing to share a copy of the Closing Disclosure with real estate agents or other third parties. Additionally, some lenders are including provisions within their closing instructions that prohibit settlement agents from sharing the Closing Disclosure with third parties. These lenders are stating that the consumer may provide a copy of Closing Disclosure to real estate agents if he or she chooses.
A concern remains about how to get necessary information about the transaction to outside parties, including real estate agents, who need certain information to document their involvement in the transaction. One of the primary reasons real estate agents are interested in receiving the Closing Disclosure is because they have to report certain data fields to MLS to close the listing. These requirements vary by state, and there is not a uniform set of data fields that will satisfy MLS. Reporting these data fields is a requirement for participating in the MLS system, so it is crucial that real estate agent receive this information.
Settlement agents and title insurance professionals should contemplate the requirements and limitations of their privacy policies and contemplate whether any of these policies need to be revisited. The GLBA continues to set a strong standard for protecting NPI, despite going into effect 16 years ago. The ALTA Title Insurance and Settlement Company Best Practices reiterate the importance of privacy policies and include guidelines for companies to protect against data theft to help meet GLBA requirements. Pillar 3 of the ALTA Best Practices provides procedures on physical and network security of NPI, how to properly dispose of NPI, developing a disaster management plan, employee training to ensure compliance, and oversight of service providers.
When revisiting your privacy policies, consider the following questions:
After re-examining your privacy policies, you should compare these policies with your company’s data-sharing practices to ensure that you are only sharing information in conformity with your policies.
If your lender prohibits you from sharing the Closing Disclosure with third parties, you may consider using an alternative settlement statement, such as ALTA’s Settlement Statements, to document the transaction. The ALTA Settlement Statements were designed to be model forms based on the settlement statements that have been in use prior to the implementation of Know Before You Owe. These statements may be modified as appropriate to reflect the terms of the transaction and to prevent any disclosure of the buyer’s or seller’s NPI. Four versions of the ALTA Settlement Statement are available: the buyer statement, the seller statement, the combined statement, and a statement for cash transactions.
Lastly, if you plan on sharing a closing document, such as a settlement statement, to a third party, consider whether you are sharing any information that would be considered NPI under the FTC’s guidelines and whether you have met the GLBA’s requirements for sharing such data. Also consider why you feel the need to share this information and how you would anticipate your customer would feel about you sharing that information. By keeping GLBA requirements and ALTA Best Practices in mind as you adapt to the Know Before You Owe regulation, you can ensure that your customer remains protected and that you continue to have compliant real estate closings.
Compliance Webinar: What You Need to Know About Gramm-Leach-Bliley
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Question: We have been told by a couple of lenders that they would prepare a joint buyer and seller Closing Disclosure and deliver the same to both the buyer and seller for “signature.” Can the lender elect to take on the role of the settlement agent with regard to preparation and delivery of the Seller Closing Disclosure?
Answer: To comply with the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures rule, both the buyer and seller must receive Closing Disclosures that provide details of the transaction. In sale transactions, the rule places the responsibility on the settlement agent to provide the seller with a Closing Disclosure relating to the seller’s transaction. See § 1026.19(f)(4). However, the rule also recognizes that in some instances the settlement agent may meet this obligation by either providing the seller with a seller-only Closing Disclosure or a combined buyer/seller Closing Disclosure. This can be done by either the lender or the settlement agent depending on the agreement between those parties. You should collaborate with your lender partners to determine who will prepare this document so you can ensure you meet your obligations under the Know Before You Owe regulation.
Similar to lenders being liable for delivery and accuracy of the buyer’s Closing Disclosure, settlement agents are liable for delivery and accuracy of the seller’s Closing Disclosure. If a lender decides to provide the seller’s Closing Disclosure, the settlement agent must be aware of this process and ensure accuracy.
In addition to preparing for new timing requirements and tighter fee tolerances, settlement agents and lenders must develop standardized fee names or descriptions for the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure.
Because the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants consumers to be able to compare fee estimates with what’s actually charged at consummation, the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosures (TRID) rule requires fee terminology to be consistent between the two forms. This is a challenge because fees for services are not called the same thing across the country. Lenders and settlement agents need to communicate and come to an agreement on standardized fee names for the Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure.
Examples of variances in naming include valuation services versus appraisal. Some states require a specific terminology for fees. As an example in Texas, the fee for termites must be called "wood destroying insect fee."
Here’s the portion of the TRID rule addressing fee naming:
Lenders and settlement agents have started attempting to determine standard fee names. Below is one lender’s example of what it uses for title fees on the disclosures:
PAGE 2 of LOAN ESTIMATE
For loans that require a Loan Estimate, which include most closed-end mortgage loans secured by real property) and that proceed to closing, creditors must provide a new Closing Disclosure reflecting the actual terms of the transaction.
The creditor is required to provide the consumer Closing Disclosure at least three business days before consummation. The CFPB says that “business day” for purposes of the Closing Disclosure is the rescission-based business day definition, and means all calendar days except Sundays and legal public holidays.
According to the CFPB, creditors may estimate fees using the best information reasonably available when the actual cost is not available at the time the Closing Disclosure must be delivered.
“However, creditors must act in good faith and use due diligence in obtaining the information,” the CFPB states in its examination procedure manual. “The creditor normally may rely on the representations of other parties in obtaining the information, including, for example, the settlement agent.”
A corrected Closing Disclosure containing the actual terms of the transaction must be provided at or before consummation. If the creditor provides a corrected disclosure, it must provide the consumer with an additional three-business-day waiting period prior to consummation if:
The creditor is responsible for ensuring that the Closing Disclosure meets the content, delivery and timing requirements. If the Closing Disclosure is provided in person, it is considered received by the consumer on the day it is provided. If it is mailed or delivered electronically, the consumer is considered to have received the Closing Disclosure three business days after it is delivered or placed in the mail.
If the creditor mails the disclosure six business days prior to consummation, it can assume that it was received three business days after sending, and therefore three business days prior to consummation, according to the CFPB. Creditors may contract with settlement agents to provide the Closing Disclosure to consumers, provided the settlement agent complies with all relevant requirements.
The rule does not indicate that any specific proof is needed to show the Closing Disclosure was placed in the mail. Similar to contract law, if the sender places the Closing Disclosure in the mail, has it addressed to the consumer properly and has proper postage, it is assumed to be received by the consumer three business days later. The sender could always mail the Closing Disclosure certified or require a signature upon receipt if they wanted to have proof it was delivered properly, but that is not required by the rule. This highlights the importance of having documented policies and procedures. Title production systems should be able to create records of when the Closing Disclosure was generated. Having policies showing when a company places documents in the mail can go a long way to showing a strong pattern of compliance. Also, some postal services allow customers to generate postage (instead of stamps) and create a log of each envelope that is post marked.
Lastly, while the examples the CFPB provides in the rule all focus on physical delivery of the disclosure, electronic delivery is allowed in accordance with the E-SIGN or Uniform Electronic Transaction Act laws. The timing requirements are the same as for physical delivery and would require obtaining some evidence of receipt (i.e., an email confirmation, system log or other indicia) or complying with the mailbox rule for presuming receipt three days after placing the documents in the mail.
Creditors and settlement agents also may agree to divide responsibility with regard to completing the Closing Disclosure, with the settlement agent assuming responsibility to complete some or all the Closing Disclosure. In these situations, the creditor must maintain communication with the settlement agent to ensure that the Closing Disclosure and its delivery satisfy regulatory requirements, The creditor is legally responsible for any errors or defects.
In transactions involving a seller, the settlement agent is required to provide the seller with the Closing Disclosure reflecting the actual terms of the seller’s transaction no later than the day of consummation.
In transactions that are not rescindable, the Closing Disclosure may be provided to any consumer with primary liability on the obligation. In rescindable transactions, the creditor must provide the Closing Disclosure separately and meet the timing requirements for each consumer who has the right to rescind under TILA.
The consumer may waive the three-day period if there is a bona fide personal financial emergency. Bona-fide personal financial emergencies are extremely rare. Determining whether one exists is fact intensive. The only example provided by the Bureau is the imminent sale of the consumers home through foreclosure where the proceeds of the new mortgage can save the home from foreclosure.
Question: Is it a violation for the buyer’s Realtor to be in the closing room while the buyer is reviewing and signing their Closing Disclosure and loan documents? Is the buyer’s Realtor permitted to receive a copy of the Closing Disclosure without written consent by the buyer?
Answer: The TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule did not change anything regarding privacy. Companies should review their privacy policies to ensure it matches with their data sharing practices. Closing agents are encouraged to consider the role closing data plays in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system or agent licensing when assessing how to share data. One of the primary reasons real estate agents are interested in receiving the Closing Disclosure is because they have to report certain data fields to MLS to close the listing. These requirements vary by state, so there is not a uniform set of data fields that will satisfy MLS. Reporting these data fields is a requirement for participating in the MLS system, so the information is needed by the real estate agent. However, not all information on the Closing Disclosure is necessary for real estate agents to comply with MLS requirements, which is why ALTA encourages closing agents to consider what information they provide to real estate agents and what the best method of sharing that information would be.
This being said, there is nothing within the TRID rule that prohibits the buyer’s Realtor from being present while the buyer reviews and signs his or her Closing Disclosure and loan documents. Additionally, the rule does not specifically address who may or may not receive the disclosures. Most lenders, however, will not provide the disclosures to the Realtor even if the Realtor obtains permission from the buyer. If the Realtor would like a copy of the disclosures, he or she can obtain a copy of them directly from the buyer.
The concern with sharing consumer’s personal and financial information is one of the reasons behind ALTA’s development of the ALTA Settlement Statements. The ALTA Settlement Statements may be used in addition to the Closing Disclosure, but should not be used instead of the Closing Disclosure. The ALTA Settlement Statements help title insurance and settlement companies itemize all the fees and charges that both the homebuyer and seller must pay during the settlement process of a housing transaction. There are four versions of the ALTA Settlement Statement are available, the buyer statement, the seller statement, the combined statement, and a statement for cash transactions. Click here to download the ALTA Settlement Statements.