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Oklahoma Police Can Pull You Over and Digitally Seize Money Right Off the Pre-Paid Cards in Your Wallet

Another tool used to fight international trafficking comes home to local police.

Gift CardAndrey Popov/DreamstimeIn Oklahoma, where police once attempted to seize thousands of dollars from a Burmese Christian band for no reason and a sheriff was indicted for extortion and bribery for abusing the state's forfeiture rules, the state is actually making it easier for police to legally steal people's stuff.

Oklahoma's Highway Patrol has gotten their mitts on devices that allow officers to scan pre-paid cards in people's possession and either freeze or seize the funds.

As Oklahoma Watch explains, this technology isn't new, but was developed starting in 2012 to be used by the Department of Homeland Security against international drug cartels using pre-paid debit cards to move money. But, as we've seen repeatedly by now, every technology tool used by federal officials eventually starts trickling down to local law enforcement:

The new devices will now allow law enforcement to not only seize money in physical possession of a person being stopped, but from a financial institution holding the money loaded onto a prepaid debit card as well.

Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said the new tactic could easily run afoul of the Fourth Amendment and land the issue in court.

"I think this is likely to expand pretty radically the scope of civil asset forfeiture procedures," Henderson said. "This is a capability that law enforcement has never had before and one that is very likely to land DPS in litigation."

However, law enforcement officials say the devices are essentially part of the arms race between police and drug traffickers, who in recent years have been loading pre-paid cards with millions of dollars for transport as part of the drug trade, thus decreasing the likelihood of seizure by law enforcement.

"They're basically using pre-paid cards instead of carrying large amounts of cash," said Lt. John Vincent, public information officer for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Vincent said that the police aren't just going to go scanning all cards they come across but will instead use "reasonable suspicion," like if somebody has "300 debit cards taped up and hidden inside the dash of a vehicle." He said that if somebody has proof that the cards belong to them "for legitimate reasons" they won't seize it.

But that argument puts citizens in the position of having to prove their innocence rather than requiring the authorities prove guilt. This dynamic has been a driving factor in abuse of the civil forfeiture program. How does one prove to the police that an unspent debit card was purchased "for legitimate reasons?" In the case of the Burmese Christian band, police were told that the money came from donations for their tour, but police didn't believe them and concluded the money must be drug proceeds. It wasn't until the lawyers from the asset-forfeiture-fighting Institute for Justice got involved and got some national publicity that prosecutors dropped the case and gave the money back.

Because police frequently get to keep what they seize and use it to fund their departments, we have every reason to believe that the opposite of what Vincent says will be true. Police have incentives to be suspicious of any prepaid debit card they come across and to try to link it to drug trafficking or other crimes.

Photo Credit: Andrey Popov / Dreamstime

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  • Juvenile Bluster||

    So, how long until they start taking peoples' debit cards and seizing the money in their checking accounts?

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    "Sir, the only reason someone could have that much money in their savings account is for drugs. CHA-CHING! Oh, er, uh, I mean, I'm afraid going to have to confiscate this."

  • Glide||

    Came down here to cynically post this, but, it being Reason, of course it's the first comment.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    In Oklahoma, where police once attempted to seize thousands of dollars from a Burmese Christian band for no reason

    Wait. Why would you bother to tell us that it's a Christi...oh.

  • Jimbo||

    I worry about you, HM. Do you surf the webs all day?

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    "Vincent said that the police aren't just going to go scanning all cards they come across but will instead use "reasonable suspicion," like if somebody has "300 debit cards taped up and hidden inside the dash of a vehicle." He said that if somebody has proof that the cards belong to them "for legitimate reasons" they won't seize it."

    Uh huh. Sure.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Or say somebody was black and they had a single debit card in their wallet. Now everybody knows poor black people don't have bank accounts, so the dude is obviously a drug dealer.

    Or say somebody took exception to the cop sexually assaulting their wife by doing a cavity search no warrant. Maybe you keep your trap shut or he cleans out your bank account after he gets done fingerblasting your wife or daughter.

  • Curt||

    Your second example was the first thing that went through my mind when I read the headline words, "digitally sieze"

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Vincent said that the police aren't just going to go scanning all cards they come across but will instead use "reasonable suspicion," like if somebody has "300 debit cards taped up and hidden inside the dash of a vehicle."


    No one's going to steal your guns.

    Your Social Security card will not be used as an ID.

    It's only a temporary tax.

    He said that if somebody has proof that the cards belong to them "for legitimate reasons" they won't seize it


    Innocent until proven guilty.

  • Jimbo||

    I know what you're thinking and it's a good idea: Store your prepaid cards in your ass.
    It was a good idea but they'll check there too.

  • pan fried wylie||

    sorry, "Manually"

  • Glide||

    Vouch for the latter.
    -Former Oklahoma resident

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Oh, y'all thought BitCoin was the answer to this shit.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Bitcoins don't travel on gift cards, nor do they move through banks.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And yet, they can and have been seized. And stolen by federal officials investigating crimes.

  • Hugh Akston||

    This is exactly why you should always keep your debit cards in a Faraday cage.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    OOOOk-lahoma, where the pigs come sweepin' down the plain,
    And the prepaid cards can sure smell sweet, When the cards scanners come right along for gain.
    OOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch the zeroes where our account balance used to be.

  • ||

    The DPS need a personal taste of the genital cuff.

  • kinnath||

    Be careful on the road, or the highwaymen will take everything you have including your life.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Without the police to protect and serve you, how could you travel without having marauding bands of bad people stealing your stuff? Checkmate, loonytarians.

  • al_saulinsky||

    The police have become the "marauding bands of bad people". Besides, the crime rate is worse NOW, than it was in the "old west" when people were expecting to take care of their own business.

  • ||

    Good Sod...... SMDH. And this is the state that controls my medical licence. Thanks, Okieland, thanks a lot.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And now they control your Olive Garden gift card.

  • ||

    HA! As if!!!! Applebee's is more my style... That should be safe from these goons...

  • The Grinch||

    Use it to buy drinks at the bar.

  • Libertarian||

    But they won't mess with my Dunkin Donut card, right? RIGHT?

  • Libertymike||

    Do you really need to ask the question? Your Dunky's card will be the first thing they take.

  • sarcasmic||

    My wife delivers newspapers, and round Christmas time she receives a dozen or more of DD cards as tips.

    I'll have to advise her to only drive around with one card at a time. Or the cops might steal them all and hand them out to his buddies.

  • sarcasmic||

    Police have incentives to be suspicious of any prepaid debit card they come across and to try to link it to drug trafficking or other crimes.

    They don't even have to try to link it to other crimes. All they have to do is assert that they are related, and from that point on the burden of proof is on the person they robbed.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Exactly so. They can promise anything. The reality will be that they will use it as a tool to accomplish any ends they see fit unless someone makes them stop. It's what they have done over and over and over...

  • Stilgar||

    Trump approved no doubt.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

  • Eternal Blue Sky||

    FEAR IS FREEDOM!!

    SUBJUGATION IS LIBERATION!!

    CONTRADICTION IS TRUTH!!

    Those are the facts of this world!!

    And you will all surrender to them, you pigs in human clothing!!

  • CE||

    Also known as "armed robbery".

  • John||

    It is worse than even Scott makes it out to be. You can't tell what is a prepaid card and what is an ordinary credit card. So to do this the cops are going to force people to swipe all of the credit cards in their possession to ensure that none of them are evil pre paid cards with drug money on them.

    Hey, letting a bunch of unionized flat foots swipe your credit cards and thus have access to the information necessary to clone them is just the price we pay for civilization. What could possibly go wrong?

  • patskelley||

    I think I am more disturbed that police departments may keep seized money. Sheriff of Notingham anyone?

  • Tionico||

    Sheesh.... the 'highwaymen" of old are out in full force, with backup protection plans. Whatever happened to the concept of probable cause (not possibility thinking) and proof of wrongdoing?

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