We’ve routinely told you stories about officers deciding to confiscate motorists’ cash based on suspicion the money was made illegally during routine traffic stops. In cases where the officers are wrong, the victims of this civil asset forfeiture usually end up going through a long, tedious process in an effort to get their money back. Sometimes they never see it again.
That’s because civil asset forfeiture is a shady area of the law under which cops can assign criminal status to an inanimate object without actually ever charging the rightful owner with a crime. Police departments, of course, have an incentive to hang on to the property they seize because it can later be used to pad their bottom lines. And inanimate objects are notoriously lousy at testifying to their innocence.
You probably haven’t worried about this nefarious process personally unless you are in the habit of traveling around with large amounts of cash.
But things are changing.
Thanks to new technology called ERAD, Electronic Recovery and Access to Data machines, a cop can take a look at your bank account or any type of prepaid card during a traffic stop if he has reason to believe you’re up to something suspicious.
ERAD’s makers boast:
The annual value of illegal and illicit activities occurring in the U.S. is estimated to be more than $120B. And while most of that money is transported in bulk-cash shipments, more and more is being transferred with prepaid cash cards and other electronic methods. Unlike cash, the money associated with prepaid cash cards can be moved by criminals using a mobile phone or internet application in minutes, even after the criminals have been arrested and the prepaid cards confiscated. With billions of dollars being illegally loaded on prepaid cash cards, Law Enforcement needs the tools to obtain a balance, freeze or confiscate those funds.
Now there’s a solution that can do in seconds what used to take hours.
The ERAD credit, debit, prepaid, and gift card cloud based program provide real-time analytics, recording, and balance information at law enforcement’s fingertips.
Cops in Oklahoma have already begun using the technology, claiming that it really does make residents safer.
Here’s a report from the state’s News9
Here’s how it works. If a trooper suspects a person may have money tied to some type of crime, the highway patrol can scan and seize money from prepaid cards. OHP stresses troopers do not do this during all traffic stops, only situations where they believe there is probable cause.
“We’re gonna look for different factors in the way that you’re acting,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. John Vincent said. “We’re gonna look for if there’s a difference in your story. If there’s someway that we can prove that you’re falsifying information to us about your business.”
Troopers insist this isn’t just about seizing cash.
“I know that a lot of people are just going to focus on the seizing money. That’s a very small thing that’ s happening now. The largest part that we have found … the biggest benefit has been the identity theft,” Vincent said.
“If you can prove can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you. And we’ve done that in the past,” Vincent said about any money seized.
That’s right, they’re protecting folks from identity theft with the threat of actual theft by agents of the state. The cops have now evidently become some sort of weird combination of superhuman lie detectors and digital extortionists.
If you’ve ever endured the misfortune of back and forth questioning with a cop, you know how badly this can turn out for people who don’t understand their rights. He’s your buddy, just tell him what he needs to know and there will be no trouble. Just go along, he’ll lead you where he wants you and, remember, everything will go just fine if he hears the right version of the truth.
Officers are trained to leave benefit-of-the-doubt thinking at home. You’re guilty until proven innocent. Even if you aren’t guilty of anything at all, every second that ticks by during an interaction increases your chances of being charged with something. After all, there are so many laws on the books that we’re all probably breaking at least one at any given moment.
But what about the 4th Amendment? Cards stashed in your vehicle that could contain nearly every financial detail about a person would seem pretty clearly to fall under “papers and effects” protected against unreasonable search and seizure.
They don’t. At least not according to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals which said in an opinion last week that reading the magnetic strips on credit, debit and gift cards does not require a warrant.
Better have your story straight next time you head out, comrade.