Police have a new tool to seize a person's money digitally if they think it's criminal proceeds. Via Oklahoma's News9:
[T]he Oklahoma Highway Patrol has a device that allows them to seize money in your bank account or on prepaid cards.
It's called an ERAD, or Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machine, and state police began using 16 of them last month.
Here's how it works. If a trooper suspects you may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan any cards you have and seize the money.
According to ERAD's website, its small-hand held device can scan card information from any card with a magnetic stripe but can only seize funds from a prepaid card. With "prepaid card, ERAD™ gives you the ability, right at the point of arrest, to determine the value and immediately secure or freeze those funds," according to the site. "Law Enforcement personnel can transfer the money associated with a prepaid card directly to a designated Law Enforcement bank account."
In Oklahoma, ERAD takes a hefty 7.7% cut of the money seized, reports News9. But it's not just happening in Oklahoma; according to the Department of Homeland Security, the devices are being used by a number of state and local law enforcement agencies.
It's a new front in civil-asset forfeiture, a troubling police practice that has been criticized in a series of media reports over the last few years. It allows police to seize a person's assets—their cash, their car, their gadgets, their jewelry—if they believe the property was obtained illegally, and then use the proceeds to help fight crime. The person never actually has to be convicted of a crime, and in order to get their belongings back has to go through an onerous process to prove they are in fact innocent—a reversal of how our criminal justice system usually works.
Critics say police abuse the process to help their budgets, pointing to cases like one in Philadelphia, where police seized a man's home after his son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs. It's also been used to take cash from people during routine highway stops.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the technology was originally developed at its request, because criminal couriers rarely carry "bundles of cash wrapped in rubber bands anymore" but instead use "plastic cards—bank credit and debit cards, retail gift cards, library cards, hotel key cards, even magnetic-striped Metrorail cards—that have been turned into prepaid cards." The technology allowed the agency to, for example, identify $48,000 associated with a suspected drug trafficker's approximately 1,000 cards. (That is a suspicious amount of cards, though maybe he's just a really ambitious churner.)
"Since it was put into field testing, the Prepaid Card Reader has resulted in approximately $1 million dollars being seized by state and local law enforcement agencies from suspected criminal activity," said an August 2015 DHS newsletter.
Just to be safe, you might want to take all those clothing gift cards your grandmother gave you out of your wallet until you're actually ready to spend them.