Available 24 hours | Call Us for a Free Consultation (253) 327-1063


Was your cash seized at the airport by U.S. Customs Agents? All hope is not lost!

Posted by James H. Curtis | May 04, 2020 | 1 Comment

US Customs Airport Cash Seizures 

This may come as a shock to you. But if you are carrying cash above the legal limit while traveling into or out of the US, your money may be seized by US Customs and Border Patrol. 

Every year, millions of dollars are seized by Customs officials at airports all around the US pursuant to powers given under a little known US law. This law, called the Bank Secrecy Act, empowers law enforcement authorities to seize cash amounts above the legal limit that travelers fail to disclose. 

By virtue of this law, your money may be legitimately seized by US authorities. Sadly, many travelers do not understand these laws and their obligations or rights in this regard when traveling. 

As a result, most do not know that they are required to disclose these cash amounts. Worse, they have no idea that they can fight to recover their money and, due to this, end up forfeiting millions to Customs and the DEA every year. 

At the Curtis Firm, LLC we have helped hundreds of travelers recover money seized by US Customs and other agencies. If your money was seized by a law enforcement agency at a US airport, our cash seizure and forfeiture attorney can help. 

Cash seizures under the Bank Secrecy Act 

The Bank Secrecy Act was created to pursue instances of money brought into the US for illegal purposes. This includes tax evasion, purchase or proceeds of sale of illegal substances and money put to other illegal uses. 

To prevent such money from being so used, the Act requires every person traveling into or out of the US to make a disclosure whenever they are traveling with cash above $10,000. The provision does not refer to cash (whether in dollars or foreign currency) alone. It also includes monetary instruments such as: 

  • Traveler's checks 
  • Negotiable instruments such as checks, promissory notes and money order
  • Securities or stock in bearer form
  • Incomplete instruments that are signed but do not carry a payee name

You are required to fill out and submit a copy of a form called a “FinCen” form. The information you provide on the form should indicate exactly how much you are carrying on you. Ideally, you should make the disclosure as soon as you present yourself to Customs. 

When can your cash be seized? 

If you fail to comply with the provisions of this law, the cash you are carrying with you may be seized by US Customs or any other law enforcement agency at the airports. Acts that may expose your cash to seizure include: 

  • Failure to report: This is a straight case of failing to fill and submit the required form. If you filled it but failed to submit the form, you are still regarded to have failed to report. It does not matter that your failure was negligent or unintentional. 
  • Cash on more than one person: When you are traveling together with others as a group, you are required to report the cash on you as a group. The fact that none of you has up to $10,000 in reportable cash would not matter if the total amount is more than $10,000. This means if you were carrying $8,000 and other members of the group have $3,000 between them, you are required to report. 
  • Misreporting: Reporting a wrong or different amount from what you are actually carrying may also result in seizure. You must report the cash accurately. 

What happens after your money has been seized? 

Upon seizure of your money, the U.S. Customs is required to issue you a receipt for the cash. This is called a “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence.” If U.S. Customs agents fail to provide such a receipt, make sure you request it at the time of seizure. 

Failing to receive a receipt means the government never formally seized any money from you. If you leave without collecting the receipt, your money will likely go into the pocket of the Customs officer that made the seizure and you will have very little hope of recovery. 

After issuing a receipt, the seized amount will ordinarily be deposited with the U.S. Treasury which will hold the cash until the process is over. 

It is important to keep in mind that in addition to issuing a receipt, the government must send you a notice within 60 days of the seizure. The notice must inform you of the legal implications of the seizure and the procedure you can take to recover your money. This is called due process. 

If the government fails to issue a notice, they must return your money. If they fail to do so, a seizure and forfeiture attorney can help you enforce your rights against the government. 

What steps should you take when your cash is seized by US Customs? 

The first thing you should remember to do is keep your cool. While it is understandably frustrating to have your money taken from you in this manner, losing your cool and railing at the law enforcement officers will solve nothing. 

The best possible response for you is to immediately reach out to a skilled seizure and forfeiture attorney and retain them to fight on your behalf. Apart from this, the following steps will be important at this stage: 

  • Filing a petition: The seizure notice sent to you by the government should inform you of your right to petition for return of your money. You will typically have to file this petition within 35 days of receiving the notice. The petition must show your relationship to the money, that it had a legitimate source and legal intended use. A qualified attorney can help you file the petition. 
  • Cost bond: You may also be required to post a cost bond. This basically means the notice may specify that you must for the costs involved in the government seizing and holding your money. The amount is typically 10% of the seized amount. If your petition succeeds, you may get the full amount returned. If it doesn't only a portion of the money may be returned by the judge. 
  • Petition for Remission or Mitigation: The notice may also offer you an option of making this petition instead of filing a claim for the money. This petition means the government is willing to return your money without a hearing or appeals, on certain conditions. Speak to a qualified seizure and forfeiture attorney before you accept this. 

After filing your response, the government will have 90 days to respond. They may respond by returning the cash to you, filing a civil forfeiture suit or filing a criminal forfeiture suit against you. 

When can your money be subject to forfeiture? 

It is very important to keep in mind that seizure is very different from forfeiture. When your money is seized by the government, it means it is in their possession. For all intents and purposes, the money still remains yours and you have a right to it. 

But when your money is forfeited, it means that the money no longer belongs to you. The money will now belong to the government which may do with it as it likes. There are two ways that forfeiture can occur: 

  • Administrative forfeiture: This is essentially the process that starts when the government issues you a seizure notice. Forfeiture can happen here if you fail to respond to the notice or file your petition in time, for instance. 
  • Judicial forfeiture: This only happens after the matter has been brought before a court. If the government intends to claim that you should no longer have a right to the money, they may file a forfeiture action in civil or criminal court against you even before sending a notice. When they do this, they no longer have to send a seizure notice. If the court finds against you, your money may then be subject to forfeiture. 

Contact a seizure and forfeiture attorney today 

The process of fighting a seizure of money by the US Customs can be very complicated, as you have seen. Often, recovering some of your money will be very hard, much less recovering all. 

If your money was seized by Customs, your best bet to a positive recovery will be to contact a skilled seizure and forfeiture attorney immediately. If you find yourself in this position, call The Curtis Firm, LLC today at 253-327-1063 to explore your rights and options for recovery. 

About the Author

James H. Curtis

As principle attorney and founder of The Curtis Firm, LLC., James Curtis provides expert representation in a variety of matters, including cash seizure and forfeiture, DUI, criminal defense and personal injury. For more than 14 years, he has been aggressively advocating and winning cases for clients in and around Western Washington.


Peter Maxwell Reply

Posted Sep 11, 2022 at 17:54:03

Thanks for information like this. I started reading about laws after my probation for a DUI charge in 2018. Regular assessment from https://ampprobation.com/services/assessments/ was a part of my routine and it was a really difficult moment in my life back then so now I really read on things about the law and your post is really very useful so thank you.

Leave a Comment

Service Areas

The Curtis Firm, LLC is located in Tukwila, the midpoint between Seattle and Tacoma. We also serve clients throughout Western Washington to include Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, Auburn, Seatac, Burien, Federal Way, Fife, Puyallup, Tacoma, and Lakewood.

The Curtis Firm, LLC | Attorneys at Law
(253) 393-9190 (fax)
Mon: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Tue: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Wed: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Thu: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Fri: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Sat: 08:00am - 06:00pm
Sun: 08:00am - 06:00pm