U.S. extends its search for dirty money in real estate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department said it will extend its search for criminals who seek to launder money by buying U.S. real estate.

The U.S. Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) will extend for 180 days a rule ordering title insurance companies to report to authorities all-cash purchases in parts of California, Texas, Florida and New York, the agency said in a statement Thursday.

The order mandates that the title companies identify the real purchaser, even when the sale is made through shell companies.

The information was “valuable data that is assisting law enforcement and is serving to inform our future efforts to address money laundering in the real estate sector,” said FinCEN Acting Director Jamal El-Hindi.

The agency said since imposing the original order in January 2016, it has found 30 percent of these cash real estate transactions involve a person who had previously been reported to authorities for suspicious financial activities.

The order was due to expire on Thursday.

The order includes New York City; Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties; Los Angeles; San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties; and San Antonio, Texas.

The American Land Title Association said its members would continue to work with law enforcement. “The good news is those efforts appear to be beneficial to the government’s work identifying money laundering schemes,” Michelle Korsmo, ALTA’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Reporting by Joel Schectman; Editing by Phil Berlowitz