Crooks make use of electronic cash

Posted: May 23, 2011

BOGOTA, Colombia - Forget bulk cash. Heavy and hard to hide, it's not the most convenient cross-border conveyance for a 21st-century money launderer.

An increasingly attractive alternative for today's criminal is electronic cash loaded on what are called stored-value or prepaid cards. Getting them doesn't require a bank account, and many types can be used anonymously.

U.S. crimefighters consider the cards a burgeoning threat that regulators haven't adequately addressed.

In the past year, said John Tobon, a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, the cards have become the preferred means of paying couriers who transport illicit drugs across the U.S.

No one knows how big a role the cards play in moving the more than $20 billion in drug earnings that U.S. authorities estimate crosses from the U.S. to Mexico annually. Yet while anyone crossing that border with $10,000 or more in cash must declare it, prepaid cards are legally exempt.

It was bank and wire-transfer records that enabled law enforcement to identify the 9/11 hijackers and their overseas cells. "Had the 9/11 terrorists used prepaid [stored-value] cards to cover their expenses, none of these financial footprints would have been available," a U.S. Treasury Department report observed.

|
|
|
|
|