During arrests of criminal couriers, law enforcement officers rarely find bundles of cash wrapped in rubber bands anymore. Instead, they find stacks of plastic cards — bank credit and debit cards, retail gift cards, library cards, hotel card keys, even magnetic-striped Metrorail cards — that have been turned into prepaid cards.
The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Electronic Recovery and Access to Data (ERAD) Prepaid Card Reader is becoming a vital tool for law enforcement seizing these cards and funds associated with criminal activity.
The ERAD Prepaid Card Reader is a small, handheld device that uses wireless connectivity to allow law enforcement officers in the field to check the balance of cards. This allows for identification of suspicious prepaid cards and the ability to put a temporary hold on the linked funds until a full investigation can be completed. The project, developed by S&T’s First Responder Group (FRG), began in March 2012.
“When we found out about the need for this technology from one of our DHS agency partners, we worked to develop the technology necessary to address this critical issue” explained FRG Program Manager Bill Deso. “They were seeing large numbers of prepaid cards during the performance of their duties, but had no way to check the balances on the cards. The ERAD Prepaid Card Reader now provides law enforcement personnel with this capability.”
This past April, the National Urban Security Technology Laboratory conducted an operational field assessment on the ERAD Prepaid Card Reader that included training, testing and a wrap-up roundtable discussion to solicit general feedback.
In addition to internal testing, the Prepaid Card Reader was employed in a recent operation when law enforcement seized approximately 1,000 cards from a suspected drug trafficker. With this technology they were able to identify more than $48,000 in funds that were loaded onto the cards. 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.
“The Prepaid Card Reader has generated a lot of interest from our state and local law enforcement agency partners, and there is a growing demand by these agencies for use of this technology by their personnel,” said Deso. “It provides a unique tool for when they encounter suspect cards with magnetic strips during the performance of their duties.”
FRG transitioned the card reader to the commercial market, and it is now available for law enforcement use.