Money laundering is a serious issue; an estimated $500 billion are laundered annually. The extent to which money laundering through credit cards may be occurring, however, is unknown. Bank regulators, credit card industry representatives, and law enforcement officials interviewed by GAO indicated that credit card accounts were not likely to be used in the initial stage of money laundering, when illicit cash is first placed into the financial system, because the industry generally restricts cash payments. Industry representatives reported that, in their view, the banks' application screening processes, systems to monitor fraud, and policies restricting cash payments made credit cards less vulnerable to money laundering. At the time of GAO's review, the primary regulatory oversight mechanism to ensure the adequacy of anti-money laundering programs was the Bank Secrecy Act examination, which applies in the credit card industry to issuing and acquiring banks. The regulators said that the issuing banks' application screening process, fraud monitoring systems, and policies restricting cash payments lowered the risk of money laundering through credit cards.
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