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CBP Officers Can Go Through Credit Card History, Ban For Cannabis-Related Purchases

Travelers arriving at the United States who raise suspicions might now have their cards scanned by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents.

This new measure will be implemented for both foreign travelers and American citizens.

“Branded, open-loop prepaid access [cards] can be indistinguishable from credit and debit cards, making it difficult for border agents and other law enforcement authorities to identify prepaid access [cards],” said the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), explaining  why the card scanning will be needed if a traveler arouses concern.

The effort is part of a crackdown on the use of prepaid cards by drug cartels and terrorists. They use them to launder large amounts of money and smuggle it in and out of the United States.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is in the final stages of creating new financial disclosure guidelines that travelers may find invasive or intrusive.

“This is not just a burdensome hassle, it’s extraordinarily unfair,” said attorney Judith Rinearson, a regulatory counsel for a prepaid payment card trade group and a payment system specialist at international law firm Bryan Cave in New York. “We know that many students, immigrants, and unbanked persons use and rely on prepared cards as their primary means of making payments and managing their finances. Why does someone with a debit card or a credit card not have the same onerous requirement?”

She added: “And what about a prepaid cardholder’s right to financial privacy? Why should they be singled out and treated disparately from users of other payment products? Why should law enforcement have access to their account balances without a subpoena or other due process?”

With complete access to credit card purchases, including those related to marijuana, CBP could ban a traveler from ever entering the United States again if cannabis-related purchases appear on their statement.

This mainly affects Canadian citizens traveling to the United States. Canada will legalize marijuana nationwide on October 17, but it is still not readily available outside of the internet.

Most provinces only have online access to legal cannabis until the end of the year, meaning that using a credit card for purchase is inevitable to consumers. Some provinces are more discreet with purchases and how they appear on credit card bills, while others make it extremely evident.

With credit card history being completely available to U.S. CBP agents, what other information could they use against travelers in the future?

James Dinkins, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, told FinCEN, said that federal agencies, anticipating imminent approval of the new reporting requirements, are developing “an enforcement strategy that will strike a balance between national security and the delivery of important services to millions of people that utilize prepaid access devices for a wide variety of legitimate purposes.”