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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Terrorists and money launderers may find it easier to escape detection by using gift and other prepaid cards, a U.S. Treasury Department official said.

Criminals are increasingly using the cards, some of which are bought with "digital currency" through the Internet, to avoid leaving financial fingerprints, Jeffrey Ross, a senior adviser at the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime, said in an interview.

"The new criminals are so facile with the Internet," said Mr. Ross, who was attending a money-laundering conference in Hollywood, Fla., yesterday. "They're moving value through the Internet and downloading it to a product not tied to a bank account."

The Treasury Department is considering regulations to help monitor the $163-billion (U.S.) stored-value industry.

Its products include gift, long-distance, transit, payroll and money cards redeemable at automated teller machines, or ATMs, worldwide, according to Tim Sloane, director of the Debit Advisory Service at the Mercator Advisory Group in Waltham, Mass.

Treasury officials plan to unveil proposed regulations for the industry in the next six months, said William Langford Jr. associate director of regulatory policy, programs and enforcement of the department's financial crimes enforcement network.

"It's at the top of the agenda," Mr. Langford said in an interview.

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