FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent

Icecube sez, "Earlier this month, a flier was released by the FBI saying that TOR users might be terrorists. It seems that there is another article that was recently published that says that if you see someone paying for a cup of coffee in cash, they too could be a terrorist. I wonder how much longer it'll be before drinking a cup of water at home could be considered suspicious as well."

Using cash for small purchases like a cup of coffee, gum and other items is a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal without leaving the kind of paper trail created using a debit or credit card for small purchases.

The most recent update asks coffee shop owners, baristas and other customer-service specialists to be on the lookout for the enemy who walks among us (who evidently has been reanimated from the graves of the 1950s Red Scare era of blacklisting and Communist-baiting or the KGB's constant witch hunt for capitalist sympathizers or people who resent being witch-hunted for their political beliefs).

Update: From the comments, kPkPkP nails it: "If you see anything, say anything"

How to avoid being tagged as a terrorist: Don't pay cash for coffee (Thanks, Icecube!)

(Image: Coffee Shop, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dailylifeofmojo's photostream)


  1. If you don’t stick your local coffee shop with the ludicrous fees associated with small credit card purchases, you’re sipping lattes with Al-Qaeda!

      1. Little known fact: French Maid outfits are designed to permit vertical card swipes through the exposed cleavage.

        (This fact comes courtesy of Dominique Strauss Kahn)

  2. When I order coffee I prove my patriotism by also getting a cinnamon roll, not a foreign pastry like a danish or a croissant.

    1. Give me a good old American crescent roll any day over one of those nasty French croissants.

      If you excuse me, I have some Freedom Fries and some Freedom-cut green beans to eat with my lunch now.

      1. “Croissants” are Turkish, they commemorate their defeat of the Persians in some 12th Century war,,,the Croissants are shaped like the Persian helms/hats of the day.  Soooooo go eat your  can of bread like  food product.

        1.  Nothing in America is original. all borrowed  or copied goods from somewhere else. The Washington Monument or Stele is Osiris penis that represent resurrection.

  3. I’m sure Cory remembers this bit: “”You think it’s no big deal maybe? What is the problem with government knowing when you buy coffee? Because it’s one way they know where you are, where you been. Why you think I left Turkey? Where you have government always spying on the people, is no good. I move here twenty years ago for freedom — I no help them take freedom away.””

    1. Apt.
      For those who don’t know what he’s talking about : http://craphound.com/littlebrother/Cory_Doctorow_-_Little_Brother.htm
      (a book by our esteemed host).

    2.  Seriously… I just saw the play two weeks ago, and am reading the book right now, and… ugh, I hate it when real life starts resembling fiction.

  4. Just like most law enforcement, a vast chunk of their job is VERY boring, so they have to come up with some way to justify their existence ( see Drugs, War on). You know how I know there aren’t any terrorists? Just drive by any major airport in America. Take a good look at all the places a person could stand, park whatever within spitting distance of a fully fueled and loaded plane. Not one “terrorist” has ever so much as taken a potshot at one. It’s all security theatre. Most BB readers know this. The trick is convincing enough of those who remain clueless and scared.

    Edit: and you can better believe if such an attack ever were to occur, it would be a “false flag” event. Stranger things have happened.

    1. 1) Identify something that “people who we don’t like” do
      2) Villainize and outlaw it.
      3) Profit!
      4*) Bonus: Deny convicted felons right to vote – Disenfranchisement complete!

      See “War on Drugs”

    2.  Reminds me of all the scare over some people owning .50cal rifles. The news people hype the shit out of the fact that it could punch a hole in a fuel truck’s side, completely glossing over the fact that most of the common hunting rifles could easily do the same.  But, as Geraldo once put it “No one reports on a building that’s not on fire..”

    1. My son is at the age where peer pressure is starting to rear its head… this is the best argument for not being “normal” I’ve ever heard. I’ll share it with him tonight.

  5. So acting different is suspicious and acting normal is suspicious? I guess the solution is to be so outrageously eccentric that you pass into the category “so crazy I will avert my eyes”.

  6. “Using cash for small purchases…”

    Uhm, what else are they using cash for? Buying a new car or a house? Not suspicious at all.

    1. Actually, I believe the FBI wasn’t too happy that Germany insisted on €500 notes.   Great for smuggling cash, y’know. 

      Thing is, there’s still plenty of Germans who actually pay their cars – used and new – in cash. 

      (Most finance them, though.)

  7. Patently FALSE!  I want the whole world to blow up BEFORE I get my coffee.  Coffee is what KEEPS IT FROM HAPPENING DAMMIT.

  8. Or perhaps you’re on holiday and don’t want to pay the same amount again in card fees.
    I only hope that the more they do this, the more people just start ignoring them…

  9. @jameslosey a cinnamon roll is a Swedish delicacy originally. Though admittedly the ones you buy in the US are smothered in butter icing for some reason.

  10. When I was traveling in Europe, I was surprised to see how many places would only take cash… credit cards aren’t nearly as ubiquitous overseas. Clearly, they’re ALL TERRORISTS.

  11. “If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.” – Schneier

    1.  I’m screwed then. I put A-1 in my coffee once just screw with everyone at the table.   It was as horrible tasting as it sounds, but the mind-screw was proportional to that.

  12. Pretty much everybody in the food/bar industry is using a lot of cash from tips to pay for such everyday things:  Bartenders/Waitstaff = trying to pass for normal…

    1.  “I’m really a terrorist. This waiter job is just until I can afford enough C4 to blow up a small building.”

    2. I use the self-service machines at supermarkets that have a dish that feeds into a coin-counter. I chuck handfuls of tip money in it until it chokes. 

      Surprisingly, the store minder suggested just nagging my manager to convert it to notes. I just don’t think she knows about the terrorist hotline and the threat I hold against my country by buying rocket (arugula) and gunpowder green (tea) and distilled dihydrogen monoxide (water). 

  13. I buy all my coffee using a  letter of credit drawn upon the Credit Suisse. 

    Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, I use mortgaged backed securities. And that way I can leverage a latte into a latte grande.

  14. The faceless power and ubiquity of the feds and their ability to intrude on anyones life scares me more than nutjobs with explosives in their shorts. At what point do we realize that the terrorists are winning by forcing us to destroy the freedoms we are trying to save?

    1. “At what point do we realize that the terrorists are winning by forcing us to destroy the freedoms we are trying to save?”

      9 years ago.

      1.  I was going to change “we” to “those in power”, but I suspect this was part of the agenda all along, so they probably knew 12 years ago. sigh.

        1. Second thing out of my mouth when someone called me up and said “turn on the news!”  on 9/11 was “Freedom in America will be euthanized shortly…”

    2.  The terrorists are not the ones who want to destroy your freedoms, it’s the Governments who want to destroy your freedoms. They only want you to use cards so they can track your movements and make sure you are doing as you are told.
      To be fair it will help solve crimes, catch terrorists, make it harder for drug dealers to move money etc, all those things our Governments tell us, but in their hands it will also erode our freedoms through fear of the (practically non existent) consequences.

  15. I’m almost finished reading Debt: The First 5000 Years, which emphasizes how society has tended in recent centuries to view debtors as immoral, while people who pay cash and avoid credit are seen as superior. You’re either a deadbeat or a terrorist.

      1. I’ll give you the benefit of doubt that practical reasons motivated you to strive your whole life to avoid debt. If you had caved in and racked up some debt in spite of knowing practical reasons why you shouldn’t, then would you feel bad? And if not “superior”, would you say that you have some pride in the fact that you’ve avoided debt? I don’t mean to imply arrogance, but a positive feeling of avoiding the temptation of debt. I’m thinking of my grandmother-in-law telling how they didn’t buy a clothes washer (or fridge?) until they had saved up cash for it, because they didn’t want to buy things on credit. She wasn’t exactly saying debt is a kind of sin, but she was proud of avoiding debt.

        The flip side of this is that, even in the same regions or cultures that have scolded debt as some kind of moral failing, they’ve also scolded lenders as being immoral. Loan sharks, usurers, etc. For example, there were periods when some Christians felt that it was immoral and unChristian to demand interest on loans, and yet they wanted that service, so they outsourced it to Jews.

        Oh well. It’s a great book. I might not be conveying it accurately.

        1. The good thing about not being in debt is that one doesn’t have to pay interest.  Period.

          Personally, I do not think that lending and borrowing money is bad by itself and is probably needed for some undertakings, but lots of debt these days is simple consumer credit.  Not only for stuff of essential use and resale value – like a house – but cars, computers, TVs, etc. 

          And there is no zero interest consumer credit – you almost always get a better deal when paying all at once. 

  16. MSNBC had some FBI guy on talking about the delicate balance between freedom and security and how good Hoover was  at it.   I almost threw up in my mouth.  The FBI is often been a Mormon/square  club and were off enforcing social norms rather than keeping us safe.

  17. I agree with the spirit of this post, and a lot of the “warning signs” are bogus, silly and ultimately dangerous, but the IT World article links directly to Infowars, which is generally alarmist, conspiracy-minded and fear-mongering in its own right, no?

  18. Drinking a cup of water at home will not be considered suspicious if you consume the water from a vessel that is approved in the terms of the EULA from your water company.Naturally, DRM interlocks prohibit unauthorised re-use of such water-vessels, and your home’s taps/faucets/water-coolers will not operate in the presence of water-vessels from competing brands. 
    Likewise, attempts to reverse-engineer a cup/glass/mug/jug/flask/bottle/bidon will contravene the DMCA.

  19. My favorite coffeeshop recently stopped accepting credit cards for purchases below $10 because of the CC fees. Apparently I should brace myself for an FBI/NSA/whatever-TLA raid every time I go there and buy a $3.75 latte with a $5 bill and leave the change as tip.

    1. you should report this hotbed of terrorist activity to the appropriate authorities. Us. Sounds like a great place with smart owners. 

      1.  I know of several places around where I live that don’t take credit cards at all.  One in fact only takes cash.  (Most will still take a local check.)  I’m sure if the feds came knocking they’d smile and offer them up a plate of BBQ and some sweet tea.

        -Besides I feel real shitty when I don’t have cash and have to charge something under $5.  Many times I drive to an ATM just to get cash because of how it makes me feel.

  20. Yeah, great. Clog up the line by paying with credit/debit cards because it’s so fucking convenient.

    When you inhibit my caffeine intake, the terrorists win. Anyone that doesn’t have two bucks in their pocket should be forced into an underwear bomb and detonated.

  21. I already pay for almost everything in cash.  Now I’m going to be more diligent about doing so.  Nice work, FBI…keep up the tips and I’ll keep broadcasting false positives.

  22. Real Americans™ send their ‘help’ down to Starbucks with a pre-paid card for coffee, or get it for free when they have their badge on. 

  23. If we treat as suspicious everyone who buys coffee with cash, then we may get a lot of false positives, but we’ll also catch some terrorists.

    And after all, isn’t that what counts? Better to ship a million to Guantanamo than let one terrorist walk undetected among us.

  24. A cafe owner can’t possibly comply with the contradictory messages. Don’t monitor what your customers are doing, but if they are doing this please report them.  Traveling an “illogical” distance to a cafe is suspicious, but they don’t define if that means going to a cafe that’s too far or too close to where the patron lives, which the shop owner can’t know anyway.  It’s so useless it almost makes me think this was designed specifically to be leaked so that people would think the FBI was really this stupid. Crazy like a fox? 

  25. Hey FBI, can you please stop making me *headdesk*? 

    The last 10 years or so have given me a splitting headache.

  26. If I were the credit card companies, I would make sure that stories like this were run everywhere, all the time.  In fact, I would give the FBI, CIA and others a share of my 3% + 30 cents a transaction to keep spreading this information.  Public / Private partnership!

    1.  Calry, what makes you think Amex, Mastercard and Visa haven’t already lobbied for just these messages from the FBI?

  27. REAL AMERICANS pay for their Starbucks with Home Equity Lines of credit. sheesh. Anybody not underwater with their mortgage, or drowning in CC debt  is clearly getting financed by foreign Axes of Evil.

    1. With broadband as widely available as it is now, pretty much every coffee shop is an Internet cafe.  They might not have the sad little row of 7-year old white box computers anymore, but look around almost any coffee shop and half the patrons are online.

  28. Yeah, uh. I wanted to see exactly how that was worded, so I went through all the PDF files. Two of them – Military Surplus Stores and Tattoo Shops – mention “insists on paying cash”. Several others list “Using cash for large transactions or a credit card in someone else’s name.” or variations thereon. To summarize: the headline is bullshit. I like Boing Boing, I don’t like these guidelines, but that headline is just ridiculous.
    EDIT: Oh, right. The “Internet Café” one also lists “Always pays in cash” – a tiny bit closer, but not good enough.

  29. the funny thing about this “see and tell” crap is that the very people the alphabet groups expect to report on suspicious behavior are most likely involved in some minor criminal activity themselves. If you are out of compliance are you going to report someone’s suspicious behavior? Most likely you’ll use your common sense, decide that cash for coffee isn’t such a threat, shrug and move on.

  30. One of the linked flyers targets health/beauty distributors, so I guess the guy who buys that 55-gal barrel of personal lube on Amazon is gonna have some real explaining to do.

  31. So first they charge us to take our own money out from ATMs, making people who carry cash rarer and rarer, and then they stigmatize the last few people who do use cash (and whose movements they can’t track) by calling them terrorists. I get it now.

  32. After getting myself a terrorist-style watch last xmas, (oops,) I’m starting to worry a bit.  I find doing the occasional fast-cash withdrawal is the easiest way to keep tabs on my incidental beverage/snack/etc spending.  

    Next, I fully expect to hear that self-buzzed is the haircut of choice for budding terrorists.  I guess I’ll just have to try and get in some vacation travel before that happens.

  33. “So wait, we put how many cups of coffee on the company credit card? How we going to explain this?! What? No, that’s stupid, how could we claim we were looking for terrorists in a coffee shop? I guess we’ll try your idea, either way we’re probably losing our jobs.”

  34. Dear people of America this is your government talking:

    PAY YOUR TAXES OR GO TO JAIL-we never pay ours and we make the laws and jails.
    OBEY EVERY LAW NO MATTER HOW RIDICULOUS- we obey no laws we only create them to have absolute control of any citizen at any time for any reason.
    THE CONSTITUTION IS WHAT WE WERE FOUNDED ON-clearly we burnt the foundation to the ground, but before we fall we will fill the hole with rights and freedoms.
    BE AFRAID OF EVERYTHING-that way its easier to trick your freedom and rights away.
    BELIEVE WHAT WE SAY AND EVERYTHING WE TELL THE MEDIA TO SAY-we will never believe a thing you say, even after extraditing and torturing you.
    AMERICA IS FREE-well it is if you are anyone in our favor, government, cop, judge, big company, congress, for everyone else you are free to shut up and take whats coming to you.
    INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY-unless you are an American citizen, then its beyond a shadow of doubt guilty until proven innocent-You may be beaten, shipped to another country, tortured for years, left starving and sleep deprived simply because of SUSPICIONS.
    GOD BLESS AMERICA-well he might have at one time, but if I were God I would be cursing America’s keepers right about now.
    DONT RECORD POLICE OFFICERS BREAKING LAWS-we shall retain the right to record every action you make, every purchase you make, and every place you frequent for later review for illegal activity-or to frame you for said activity.(circumstantial evidence is now grounds for convictions.)
    ANYTHING YOU SAY OR DO WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW-likewise NOTHING you say or do will be used TO HELP you in a court of law-FACT.

    People died to secure our freedoms before our great grandparents were born, people willfully gave their lives for freedom before our parents were born, our children and fathers are dying now to secure WHAT?????

    Because freedom took flight and left.

    I remember an uplifting commercial shortly after the 9/11 attack, maybe you remember it.  Showing a row of middle American houses with flags on them, something about “dont let the terrorists win”???(more like a joint effort)

    While they didnt really win, they did allow our government to run rampant with fear mongering to steal every last right and freedom away from us.  In reality, no amount of wiretaps or stalking citizens will ever really stop terrorism.  It will only allow a vague idea of what happened after the fact by sifting through the insane amount of data gathered. Mark my words, it will be no time at all before ANYONE who disagrees with government and ANYONE who speaks out about it, WILL BE LABELED TERRORISTS.
    Put simply, you are either WITH THEM or a TERRORIST AGAINST THEM. No more middle ground where you are just a good honest man who disagrees with their insane actions.

    The real problem is that they are trying to turn everyone into terrorists by making everything illegal, stifling protests about their misdeeds, hiding information, lying, and trickery.

    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”
    AYN RAND…………

  35. As the masses adopt certain practices it automatically puts the stragglers in a position of suspicion. That sounds logical if you subscribe to the idea that terrorists will hide in the peripherals.  I often find myself thinking that one day we might not be able to get a job (or worse) without a Facebook page.

    Security is a funny thing in that it tends to increase with time, but decreasing it is something that would be unheard of from a liability standpoint. -So it just gets tighter until the system eventually fails and is then restructured.

      1. Do you find it as alarming as the idea that a terrorist might avoid suspicion by regularly using a credit card?

  36. Just wait till Obama finds out about this.  He is a constitutional scholar. There is no way he will stand for this.

    1.  No, what it does say is “Always uses cash”. I especially like “Suspicious use of VIOP or COMMUNICATING THROUGH A PC GAME”. I always thought those world of warcraft people were kinda dicey….

  37. Isn’t religious  fanaticism the Number 1 biggest factor  in becoming a Terrorist?  Anger at not being able to force said religion on others through peaceful means being factor 2.

  38.  “a good indication that a person is trying to pass for normal”

    Yes, OR they could, you know. . . actually BE normal.

    1. You have to look normal, but not too normal. Just act naturally, but, you know, not in an obvious way.

    2.  Given the amount of drug commercials on TV I find it harder to believe the people I see out and about are “normal”…I tend to believe 1/3 or more of the people I see are on some kind of depression medication, another 1/3 on some type of heart burn meds, and the rest on a mix of bladder control, erectile dysfunction, and herpes outbreak meds.  I just try and fake normal to fit in.

  39. Next they’ll be asking shop keepers to watch the parking meters in front of their stores, and to report if somebody puts in a half hour worth of time, but only uses fifteen minutes of it.

  40. Man, maybe I should stop saying yes when the cashier asks me, “Would you like to donate a dollar to Al-Qaeda?”

  41. Suggestion:

    As a service to the FBI, and to show their support for the War On Terror, all baristas should phone and report all incidents of people paying cash for coffee for the rest of the month.

    I’m sure the FBI, since they issued the directive, are prepared to receive the volume of phone calls that this would entail.

  42. A couple of years ago I was trying an experiment with budgeting, and I began depositing all my money immediately into savings and then began transferring only a small amount to checking at a time.

    I got a notification from the bank saying that this was illegal and that they were obligated to notify Homeland Security if it happened again (more than 6 transfers in a month, or something.)

    This was all because the 9-11 terrorists used electronic transfers from savings or some such nonsense. I ask you, is it not MY money to move around if I want to play mind games with myself to try to limit my spending? Or if I choose to pay cash? The stupidity of these rules- it burns.

    There are studies that show that people spend markedly less when they use cash. There is an actual pain response to spending that is reduced when it’s a check, and almost entirely negated when it’s a card. Good little consumers are conveniently also less likely to be terrorists, I guess. Eddie Bernays would be proud!

      1. If I was misinformed, excuse me. But Wells Fargo cited the DHS and Patriot Act as the drivers for their notification letter, and told me it was a post 9-11 change to their policies.

        1. You got lied to; not your fault. It’s a reasonable assumption on the part of whoever told you that though, as most attributing silly and unreasonable terrorism-related legislation to 9/11 is a pretty safe bet.

          1. Anyway, I stand by the last ¶ of my comment. There are lots of reasons for encouraging consumers to rely on plastic exclusively. And one of them is that they’re likely to spend more. Also, if you “insist” on paying cash, we can’t guarantee your protection, right?

    1. I used a credit card almost exclusively for years, all through college and a year or two before and after that, and avoided places that were cash-only or where it was inconvenient to use a card (including food trucks and food delivery, as an example). I spent money without thinking about it enough and I still have a couple thousand in debt (which I will easily be able to get rid of… if I ever find a job).

      I then (recently) spent a large part of a year in Thailand. It’s not impossible to use a credit card for most things there, but you’ll miss out on everything worth experiencing. I got into the habit of carrying around cash – and coins – and using them. I was the same way when I traveled to Europe, and in Canada (where I’ve spent a lot of time, and worked).

      Now the only place I typically use a card is the grocery store, and online of course. I spend much less money.

      I think though that US currency is not really usable in the same way that it is in any of the places I just mentioned. There are no dollar coins – which are fantastic for daily small purchases, tips, etc. Everywhere else has these (or equivalent), and the lack of them really inhibits the flow of small amounts of cash, at least for me.

      1. There are US dollar coins, they’re just not popular.    Besides the collectibles, the  Sacagawea dollar is the current everyday dollar coin.  You should be able to find them at your bank if you really want some.

        1.  Oh, I know – admittedly I forgot their existence, but I have some around here somewhere. I got some from the bank and tried to use them a couple years ago. Cashiers are bewildered by them – though I didn’t have any problem spending them, I’ve heard of cashiers refusing them. And I don’t use vending machines very often myself, but I don’t think many take dollar coins.

          The problem though is that you don’t receive them as change, so it’s terribly inconvenient if you want to use them. I suppose you could get a huge stash from the bank once in a while, but that seems silly to me. The thing that’s great about dollar-equivalent coins elsewhere is that you always have them because you always get them as change if you use paper bills, and you’re not forced to keep a huge stash of them. You only have a couple handfuls at any one time, because you spend them all the time.

      2.  What ialreadyexist said. 
        I have spent a hundred of those Sacagawea-bucks, back when they were new.  Mostly on tips but also small purchases. 
        They were refused often.  Cashiers treating me as a suspect. 
        Fun, but not practical. 

  43. There was a story a few years back that the DHS wanted access to the supermarket in-store affinity card data so they could watch for terrorist grocery shoppers buying terrorist things like, for example, hummus.

  44. The FBI just tipped off the terrorists that they figured out this trick. NOW how are we going to spot them?

  45. I like the flyer for paintball…most of the guys I play with must be terrorists.  I like this part specifically;

    “Customer travels illogical distance to participate, or location is illogical for group”.

    You mean like, going half way across the country to play paintball in a big castle with old fashioned pump guns?

  46. I learned a long time ago that to have any respect for the FBI as being logical or intelligent it misplaced respect. From my experience, they are a bunch of irrational, moronic, bumbling idiots liars, crooks, and gangsters wearing white shirts to look respectable. But that is just one thing wrong with this country, and I seriously doubt that anything can or ever will fix it. The only goof thing that I can say about it is that it is far from the worst place on the planet. But it surely is not the best either, though that depends on the definition of best. To me, thd best means the place where the citizens are the most happy, which seems to be some of the European countries.

  47. This is some funny shit.
    I guess this will make Americans spend even more.

    High strung on Caffeine and scared shitless of the Boogeyman terrorist is the perfect recipe to boost the economy.

    Since that east coast blackout of 2003 90% of my transactions are by cash only.
    Nothing is more disturbing than witnessing so called civilized societie  going nuts a couple hours after a blackout because they can’t access ATM’s.

    C.R.E.A.M: Cash Rules Everything Around  Me.

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