Money cards and Anti Money Laundering

Gift card vouchers can be the perfect solution for a birthday when you’re not sure what present to buy. Simply pay cash at the store or shopping mall and transfer the same value onto the voucher to be used at the designated outlets or mall. Travellers Cheques have been replaced by `Travel Money Cards’ following the same principle – customers deposit funds onto a separate ATM card which are available in various currencies. Incorporating a PIN, the customer can then withdraw the funds from ATM machines in the foreign country until the card is spent. If the card is stolen along with the PIN, then the most that can be lost is the value still stored on the card.

But such convenience has also attracted fraudsters, organised crime gangs and terrorist groups to solve a problem they all face; how to move funds between individuals around the country and overseas without the threat of being apprehended at Customs for cash smuggling or have the Electronic Funds Transfers traced by the authorities.

Recent arrests in the US have documented that some crime groups are increasingly using the money cards, many of which are bought with “digital currency” via the Internet using fake credit cards or compromised bank accounts. With casinos and banks the most established means for money laundering, and thus coming under heavier scrutiny for Anti Money laundering [AML], medium scale money launderers are increasingly turning to `Travel Money Cards’ to distribute their illicit funds because they provide ease and anonymity.

Gift voucher cards are normally designated as closed-system or closed-loop cards because they can only be used at the retailers or shopping mall that issued them. Open-system money cards (such as those linked with card companies VISA and MasterCard) can be used at most retail stores and many of them are useable as ATM cards where the card holder can withdraw the value on the card in cash from most ATM machines in the world.
Because these cards can also be reloaded with funds via online transactions or else at banks or via a cash-tills transaction, they’re an effective method for fraudsters, criminals and money launderers for distributing funds quickly and covertly.

Criminals can thus load cash onto multiple pre-paid open-system cards and courier the cards to their counterparts outside the country. The counterparts can then withdraw the funds in cash in their own currency with ease from local ATM machines. When the card is spent it can be discarded and the cash is untraceable.

There are many businesses and organisations that legitimately purchase gift card vouchers as rewards for their staff for meeting productivity targets or else as gifts for their customers around the holiday periods. Such large volume purchases help to muddy the water for transactions by fraudsters so they don’t stand out. Thus a fraudster can make a series of transactions for a few thousand dollars each time and is unlikely to raise any red flags.

The added bonus for a fraudster is that he can place several thousand dollars on a retail gift card and not have to deal with a currency transaction report – such as he would at a bank – and it wouldn’t be recorded on a suspicious activity report. In fact, experienced fraudsters will avert attention by breaking a large-dollar amount transaction into a number of smaller amounts over a period of a few weeks (a method of laundering sometimes referred to as `Smurfing’). The expiry date on the cards is usually 12 months, giving them sufficient time to transfer the card value back into cash [if they don’t spend it at the store first].

Fraudsters may sell or auction the gift cards online via websites such as  SwapaGift.com, CardAvenue.com, and even eBay. They sell the cards at a slight discount but it isn’t much different than bringing amounts of cash into a casino, buying chips, gambling for a short while, and then cashing out with one or more cashier’s cheques to hide the scheme.

Businesses have to be cautious that their own legitimate buying of money cards has not been infiltrated by a fraudster who person helping them to launder money. We have investigated a number of frauds for businesses where poor procedures and oversight allowed fraudsters to abuse their gift card buying system and defraud thousands of dollars meant for their customers.

As this method of fraud and money laundering is relatively new, businesses need to be aware of this fraud risk and implement monitoring and detection methods to combat any fraud and money laundering.

Do you need to know more about our services and how Regents can assist you with fraud or Anti Money Laundering issues? Simply go to our Contact Us page for our phone numbers or else send an email to contactus@regentsriskadvisory.com with your contact details and we will respond at once. Visit our Fraud Investigations webpage for more information.