This bank wants to track suspicious credit card sales of guns and ammo. Why can’t it?

The credit card industry has blocked a novel attempt to track suspicious firearms and ammunition purchases, depriving law enforcement of a potential tool to identify and combat gun crime.

Documents obtained by CBS News show that employees of domestic and international credit card companies, including Visa, Mastercard and American Express, pushed back a request to create a merchant category code for firearms and ammunition sellers.

The application was first submitted in July 2021 by New York-based Amalgamated Bank and was rejected twice by the International Standards Organization (ISO), which sets standards for the entire financial services industry. The documents show that credit card industry officials were part of an internal committee within the ISO that recommended the application be rejected. The ISO told CBS News that the credit card companies only advised the committee and did so in a “personal capacity.”

“So much illegal gun activity depends on your ability to use the financial system to buy the guns,” Amalgamated Bank CEO Priscilla Sims Brown said in an exclusive interview with CBS News senior investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Founded nearly 100 years ago by union workers, Amalgamated bills itself as the oldest socially responsible bank in the country.

“We believe you can do well and do good,” said Sims Brown.

The bank considered applying for a unique gun salesman code after discovering that some of the deadliest mass shootings were funded by credit cards.

The shooter who a Colorado cinema In 2012, he billed for more than $9,000 worth of weapons, ammunition and tactical equipment in the two months leading up to his attack, which killed 12 and wounded 70.

The man who shot them Pulse nightclub in Orlandokilled 49 people and put more than $26,000 on credit cards.

And the shooter that killed 59 on one Music Festival in Las Vegas costs almost $95,000.

“We have an obligation to fight crimes that are facilitated by our system,” Sims Brown said.

What dealer codes would yield for gun sales

Sims Brown said a dealer category code for firearms and ammunition sellers would provide data that could identify that a transaction was made at a gun shop, but without revealing which individual products were purchased. Dealer codes are used in all sorts of industries.

“So they could be – a nail salon. They could be a sporting goods store. They are assigned a merchant category code so we can see that a purchase has been made,” said Sims Brown.

And while even shoeshine boys have their own dealer code, the nearly 9,000 standalone US gun dealers don’t. With a unique code for firearms and ammunition sellers, the bank said it could run software to identify purchases in the same way it detects evidence of other suspicious activity, such as fraud and human trafficking.

“We could identify and recognize where there might be gun sales destined for black markets, where we are seeing patterns of gun purchases made across multiple gun stores,” Sims Brown said. “We could recognize the behavioral patterns that would tell us something is wrong here.”

The bank said it can then file a so-called suspect report with law enforcement if they suspect possible gun crimes. Banks and credit unions produced more than 1.4 million of the reports in 2021, reporting transactions that could indicate anything from identity theft to terrorism financing.

“Financial institutions regularly provide information to law enforcement,” former ATF Special Agent Jim Yurgealitis told Axelrod. He spent more than two decades investigating gun crimes for federal law enforcement.

Yurgealitis said he believes law enforcement would benefit from a unique code for firearms sellers, particularly in cases where someone is buying a large quantity of guns or in the case of straw buying, when someone is buying a gun for someone who is not legally allowed to have a.

“It could draw law enforcement’s attention to something they didn’t previously know about,” Yurgealitis said.

The application

In July 2021, Amalgamated submitted its application to the International Standards Organization “to create a new Merchant Category Code (MCC) for arms and ammunition stores.” The request was sent directly to two Visa and Mastercard employees, who serve as industry representatives on an ISO committee reviewing new merchant category codes.

“I can confirm that the MCC code request has been received and will be discussed when the committee meets again,” the Mastercard official wrote in an email to Amalgamated.

In October, the bank’s application was denied. Prior to the application, the bank was informed by the Visa employee via email: “Although I cannot identify the actual voters or individual names, there is representation from all the major cards [sic] Brands worldwide (MC, Visa, Amex, JCB, Discover, etc.).”

Amalgamated decided to appeal the decision after soliciting further input from card company employees.

“Specific customer center [codes] in tight retail [sic] Scopes are challenging,” wrote an American Express employee. “Managing long lists of narrowly defined MCCs can become tedious when there is no compelling reason for the long list.”

In February, the international organization rejected Amalgated’s appeal. In an email, the bank was told that a new code for gun and ammunition vendors would “miss out on sales in sporting goods stores” while “putting a strain” on small retailers.

Sims Brown said she was incredulous that the organization denied Amalgamated’s appeal.

“I mean, the shoeshine boy has a dealer code,” she said. “Why not the gun shop? It’s just so obvious. It’s hard to deny the logic.”

The International Standards Organization told CBS News that the credit card companies were not responsible for the decision. Employees at these companies served in a personal capacity and “do not represent the views of their employer.” Those who pushed to deny Amalgamated’s application did so “because of their expertise,” the organization said.

In statements to CBS News, both American Express and Mastercard said they are working to ensure only legitimate purchases are allowed on their networks, but did not provide any details. Visa declined to comment.

When asked by CBS News, neither Visa, Mastercard nor American Express would say whether their companies support the creation of a merchant code for firearms sellers. In a statement, Mastercard said, “We believe it is the responsibility of elected officials to enact meaningful policies to address gun violence, while it remains Mastercard’s responsibility to ensure consumers are making legal purchases on our network.” allowed to.”

Sims Brown said she disagreed.

“It’s our responsibility,” she said. “What price do you put on a life? If it saves two people from death, isn’t it worth it?”


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