Texas bill aims to crack down on human trafficking by using ATMs

A bill in the Texas Legislature would create a registry for ATMs that aren't owned by banks.
Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 4:53 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - State lawmakers have proposed legislation in Austin have proposed a bill that would crack down on human trafficking using automatic teller machines.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson from Houston proposed House Bill 2629, which would create a registry of so-called “white label” ATMs, those that are not owned or operated by financial institutions.

Rep. Thomson said illicit businesses are typically cash-only, so business owners will buy ATMs online, and place them in the lobby of an illegal massage location. “We’ve been fighting human trafficking in this state for a very long time,” Thompson said.

Not only that, said Caroline Roberts with Children at Risk said the ATMs become a money laundering tool as well. “They are taking the cash made from human trafficking and prostitution, and putting it back in the ATMs,” said Roberts, “For the customers to then withdraw to purchase more illicit sex.”

McLennan County human trafficking Detective Joseph Scaramucci said the registry would give investigators a powerful tool by arming them with information. “It’ll provide a link for law enforcement to follow from the point of sale to the trafficker,” Scaramucci said. “Most men are not going to swipe a credit card or debit card knowing that their spouse is going to find it, and/or that law enforcement has the ability to track it and hold them accountable.”

That accountability is something Scaramucci said can lead to fewer victims in the future. “The most effective means for targeting trafficking isn’t even trafficking laws. It’s finding the money. Following the money, and targeting traffickers by their money,” Scaramucci said.

House bill 2629 would not apply to ATMs that are owned and operated by financial institutions.

The bill remains in committee.

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