Drug traffickers and possible terrorists are using prepaid ATM cards and Internet-based payment systems to help launder billions of dollars each year, the Treasury Department said in its first government-wide analysis of money laundering, USA Today rpeorts. The analysis described security weaknesses through the financial system that enable criminals to hide illicitly obtained money, and to sneak it out of the country. The report, involving 16 federal agencies, will be used to help devise a national strategy to fight money laundering, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey said.
Smuggling cash in bulk remains criminals’ favorite method for moving money out of the country, said Marcy Foreman of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The report detailed a dozen other money-laundering methods, including what it called the increasingly prevalent use of prepaid cash cards that can be purchased anonymously at retail and check-cashing stores across the nation. The cards allow foreign drug traffickers to move money to their home countries without having to sneak cash past Customs agents or use bank accounts that leave paper trails. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates sales of illicit drugs in the U.S. produce $65 billion a year. “The key to ending drug trafficking is to wipe out the money side,” Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy said. The DEA seized $2 billion in 2005, up from $500 million in 2003.