My American Express Financial Review Was Just 3 Questions Over the Phone

I received a letter from American Express saying they needed to verify information about my business for a small business credit card that I have (Starwood). The letter said they had been trying to reach me but had been unable to. I did not receive any phone calls or messages from American Express.

So I called the number on the letter. I wondered if this was an American Express Financial Review — I wrote the definitive guide on those — or if they were looking to validate that I had a bona fide business (for instance, looking for an IRS letter for my LLC or bills addressed to the business).

When American Express answered, it was an outsourced agent (judging by the accent) who identified herself as being with Financial Review. After looking up my card information and asking identifying information to validate who I was, she ran through a few questions about my business — all, apparently, trying to classify whether or not I was likely involved in high risk money laundering-type activity.

Here’s What I Was Asked:

  • Does my business transfer money on behalf of others – more than $1000 per day for any individual?

  • Does my business cash checks for others – more than $1000 per day for any individual?

  • Do I sell gift cards – more than $1000 per day to any individual?

No, no, and no. Check. And done.

The card was never turned off, and I wasn’t asked to provide any documents.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I recently applied for the Citi Costco card, but got a letter from Citi requesting my tax forms. With a FICO of over 800, and credit report of 103 pages, I couldn’t for the life of me see any reason for their request; all cards reported paid as agreed, no large balances, not a single derog, nada. In speaking with a rep on the phone, I told him and his “supervisor” they wouldn’t be getting my tax forms, so my request for the card was cancelled, “at my request”, but I was invited to apply again later.

  2. @Tony, perhaps you should read the actual blog entry Gary posted?

    “After looking up my card information and asking identifying information to validate who I was, she ran through a few questions about my business — all, apparently, trying to classify whether or not I was likely involved in high risk money laundering-type activitiy.”

    (PS Gary – typo on activity.)

  3. Check flyertalk just about every business card with any reasonable spend at all gets that call. I got it last year myself. I also believe they are money laundering questions as the bank has questioned me on similiar issues before as well

  4. Why would anyone answer yes? It’s not like the questions were under oath. This would seem to be just some compliance Kabuki theater so they don’t face regulatory sanctions later.
    @tony: “Money laundering is the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money, typically by means of transfers involving foreign banks or legitimate businesses.” Maybe those questions are not “the letter of US law” but those activities certainly seem like flags for fraud or laundering to me. Cashing lots of checks from other people, transferring money and using gift cards all seem like potential laundering activities.

  5. The previous poster is partially correct in saying this is due to money laundering. Amex is trying to ascertain if these businesses may be considered MSBs (money services businesses). Look up FinCEN’s definition of what qualifies as an MSB. MSBs are inherently high risk for money laundering; as such, they are trying to limit their exposure and may even be trying to “derisk” themselves from all MSN customers. Most banks and financial institutions try to stay as far away from MSBs as possible due to difficulties monitoring these customers’ activities. This all has to do with the USA PATRIOT Act and BSA that requires all U.S. financial institutions to know their customers. Recently, they have gone farther and the expectations have been to know your customers’ customers. How do I know this? I do this for a living.

  6. What I do is Never talk to an offshore call center for Amex. If you have PLT and call in you will always get a US based person. I have had some issues with offshore call centers before and never talk to them. Had issues once with Amex Corp gift cards was told that was totally handled in India, when I explained my discomfort and then suggested we cancel the order was transferred to someone based in the US! My annual order is usually 30K in gift cards so that took care of that. Another hint do not use the “chat feature” they are also offshore. I was told that by US concierge service,

    Finally if they call me I ask them to provide call back and ID number

  7. What do you think prompted them to target you for those question?

    FYI, I also got a letter just like that a few months ago. Just like with you, they did not seem to have really tried very hard to reach me, as I had no phone calls or emails from them. I called and got similar questions. I think they also asked if my business is involved in doing currency exchanges. I had done a lot of MS with my Amex business card, but I just answered ‘no’ to all their questions and that was the end of it.

  8. I received a text asking me to call them. No details. I’m traveling so I didn’t know what might be going on. When I called, the rep said they had sent me a letter (which may be true, as I’ve been gone for a few weeks). It was regarding my Biz Plat. Got the same questions, with the proviso that answers are optional! No, no and no…thanks, goodbye.

  9. Someone is either investigating or trying cover their butt against the charge of money/transaction laundering. The first two questions seem to suggest that this about “transaction laundering”, which is “money laundering” using credit cards.

    Has the miles/points game, with a huge volume of credit card applications/cancellations, prepaid cards, MS, etc, finally drawn the scrutiny of banks and/or government regulators? It would seem so, considering how many people here just said they’ve been contacted in proportion to how tiny this community is…

  10. No you didn’t get the FR.
    If you get FR, they hold your accounts so you can’t spend anything while you’re getting the FR.
    So none of my automatic payments went through.
    This is what got me pissed many years ago.
    Plus FR dickheads pride themselves by identifying themselves as either Mr. or Ms. dickhead everytime.
    Initially, they wanted a copy of my income tax return, but I told them to kiss my behind.
    I offered to show them my checking account balance instead and got the FR removed.
    I suspect I got FR for referring two family members for credit card bonus.

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