As consumer buying habits move from the physical world to cyberspace, concerns are being raised in some quarters that criminals will seize emerging Internet payment media as a means of laundering the proceeds of their nefarious deeds.

Digital cash, warn some experts, poses a threat to every government agency in the world involved in the war on drugs and anti-money laundering activities. If not today, as electronic cash systems are popularized, criminals could be lured easily by the instantaneous and potentially anonymous means by which illicit funds could be moved, domestically or internationally. "Should electronic cash ever amount to much, it would be trivial to do all sorts of criminal-type activities as far as money laundering goes," says Charles Watt, chief scientist of Atlanta-based Security First Technologies. Criminals armed with an e-cash account and a computer, he says, could initiate thousands of small-dollar purchases within minutes, which could then be discounted for "clean" cash.

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