Following the Money

By Larry Barrett Print this article Print

Non-obvious relationship awareness" (NORA) software probes databases in any language, searching for obscure matches between relevant information. Anonymized data (ANNA) software uses the same technology to investigate data that has been encrypted.

Following the Money

Casinos use software and surveillance techniques to identify unusual or illegal transactions. The aim: root out suspected money launderers or terrorists.

When Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in 2001, giving law enforcers greater access to medical, library, student and other records, casinos were among the first businesses affected.

The legislation charged the Financial Crime Enforcement Center (FinCEN), a 200-employee division of the Treasury Department, with collecting information from financial institutions and casinos that might lead to the uncovering of money-laundering operations.

Money launderers have long viewed Las Vegas casinos, which exchange chips for cash, as a handy place to "wash" drug money or other illicitly obtained funds. As a result, every cashier cage or gambling table with chips in play must have at least one camera dedicated to it. Most tables and every cashier cage actually have several cameras recording transactions, 24 hours a day.

Now, each establishment must file what's known as a Suspicious Activity Report by Casinos (SARC) to the Treasury Department every time a patron completes a cash transaction of more than $5,000. Moreover, casinos are obligated to fill out a SARC if a person makes multiple cash transactions that total $5,000 in any single day. Recording software provides details on transactions and bets.

The SARC reports are supposed to be kept secret—from the individual. That means the casino has the responsibility to find out as much information about the person conducting the transaction and share it with law-enforcement agencies, but do so without alerting the person in question.

Even if no law is broken, information collected by cashiers and recorded by surveillance cameras becomes part of a new file. Casino security chiefs submit a report to the Treasury Department detailing all activities they witnessed during the person's visit. They may also provide photographs of the person, information on how long that person stayed in the casino and even whether the person met or was accompanied by anyone else.

How This Applies to Domestic Security: Businesses that cash payroll checks, sell money orders and trade in cashier's checks could use the same camera and profiling techniques to comply with the Patriot Act. Domestic agents would be notified of individuals who traffic in money orders or payroll checks of substantial value over a certain period of time. Transaction details and images could serve as a starting point for more-detailed investigation by the FBI and DHS.

This article was originally published on 2004-04-04
Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.