CustomsU.S. Customs seizes money (currency, cash, checks, etc.) every day from unsuspecting international travelers who fail to declare carried money over $10,000 or who fail to declare the correct amount.  If your money has been seized (i.e., you are now a currency seizure “claimant”), and you obtained your money from legitimate sources and intended to use the money for legitimate purposes, what happens after Customs’ seizure?  All claimants should become familiar with the below terms in preparing to fight for return of your money.

Custody Receipt

At the time Customs seizes the money, a Customs officer should hand you a document titled “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence” (CBP Form 6051S). Until you receive a Notice of Seizure, the Custody Receipt will be the only document showing that Customs is in possession of your money.  Our advice is not only to keep this document, but also to review the Custody Receipt for any errors such as the wrong mailing address, wrong description or wrong value of money seized.  If you did not receive a Custody Receipt or if you discover any errors on the custody receipt, let your customs attorney know so that he or she can help you contact Customs to correct the error and to avoid any procedural difficulties.

Customs’ Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures Office

After Customs has issued you a Custody Receipt, Customs will then forward your case to the appropriate Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures (FP&F) office, which has the administrative authority to grant mitigation and return of your money.  If you do not receive a Notice of Seizure from Customs in the mail within 1-2 weeks of the date of seizure, contact an experienced customs attorney to locate the appropriate FP&F officer and to request the Notice of Seizure.  Currency seizure claimants should not attempt to communicate directly with FP&F, as anything you say could lead to further legal issues (worst case, criminal allegations) or at the very least, recovery of your money may become more difficult.

Notice of Seizure (CAFRA Notice)

Customs is required under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) to issue any potential claimant a Notice of Seizure stating the date and place of seizure, a description of the property seized, and the basis for seizure.  The Notice of Seizure should include an “Election of Proceedings Form” and a “Seized Asset Claim Form.”  Keep in mind that you will have 30 days from the date of the Notice of Seizure (not from the date you receive the Notice) to file your response in writing to Customs.

Understanding your legal options in the Notice of Seizure and electing the correct proceeding is crucial in fighting for return of your seized currency.  Your Notice of Seizure will also state that “

[a] false statement or claim may subject a person to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and/or 18 U.S.C. § 1621, and may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment.”  For all the reasons stated in this paragraph, you should always first contact an experienced customs attorney before filing any response to the Notice of Seizure.

Visit our “Currency Seizure 101” page for some basic tips on fighting currency seizures.