The Justice Department is beefing up its antitrust case against the two bank credit card associations by taking over a debit card investigation that was begun by the Federal Trade Commission.

MasterCard International and Visa U.S.A. were notified Friday that the year-old FTC probe is being transferred to Justice. The unusual handoff from one regulator of competition policy to the other could strengthen the government's hand-assuming that Justice gets a judge's approval to broaden its complaint.

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