What are common money laundering schemes?

Money launderers use sophisticated tactics to conceal the origin of illegal funds. Here are some of the most common money laundering schemes.

Money laundering is the process by which a person - or more likely a network of people - conceal the true source of illegal proceeds. These funds may come from fraud, corruption, drug trafficking, or other unlawful activities. When left unchecked, money laundering can have serious consequences, impacting the economy and providing funds for drug dealing, human trafficking, corrupt officials, and more. Non compliance with money laundering regulations can also have a steep price in the form of fines.

The money laundering process typically (but not always) takes place in three steps.

  1. Placement. In this first step of the process, funds enter into the legal economy. Funds may be placed through a business, or cash may be deposited in a bank account in small increments so as not to draw unwanted attention.
  2. Layering. Next, money is separated from its source. Layering can involve many steps, many entities, and many countries, making it difficult for AML investigators to understand where the money came from.
  3. Integration. At the integration step, the money has effectively been cleaned and it can now be used like any other funds.

Criminals use many different tactics to conceal the origin of illegal funds. Here are some of the most common money laundering schemes.

Smurfing

Also called structuring, this is when a criminal splits up a large amount of money into smaller chunks to avoid their transactions appearing suspicious. Financial institutions are obligated to report transactions above $10,000, so depositing a large amount of criminal proceeds simply isn’t an option. By enlisting the help of associates, friends, or relatives, sometimes in several countries, a criminal can have those individuals deposit smaller amounts into their accounts and then have that money wired to his own account.

Round tripping

This is when funds are sent on a trip to various accounts, individuals, shell companies, countries with low regulatory standards, etc. before being sent back to their owner with a shiny veneer of legitimacy. It’s easy for analysts and investigators to miss a step in this complex journey of criminal funds, making them difficult to trace back to their original source.

Cryptocurrency

crypto currency illustrationFor a long time, cash was king for criminal activity, but that’s no longer the case. Virtual currencies like Bitcoin are not regulated in a uniform way, making them an easy vehicle to launder criminal funds. This money laundering scheme has emerged recently, and regulators and financial institutions are now trying to keep up. 

Trade-based money laundering

This scheme takes advantage of the complexity of international laws and regulations. A launderer may manipulate invoices or the value of goods in order to move money around and give it the appearance of being legitimate. Moving funds through different countries, with the involvement of several individuals or businesses, makes it easier for criminals to evade standard AML checks.

Online gambling

illustration representing online gamblingSince lots of cash moves through online gambling, it can be a natural place for illicit money to be laundered. Both the layering and placement steps of the money laundering process are relatively easy at an online casino. With two accomplices sitting at the same table, one can lose on purpose, quietly transfering money to the other.

Reselling assets

Cash can be made to look legitimate through reselling. Criminals may purchase big-ticket items with cash, and then quickly resell those items to have money they are able to actually use in their bank account. Real estate, luxury cars, and other such items are popular placements for money laundering.

Constantly evolving money laundering schemes

Criminals’ number one goal is to effectively hide money with illicit sources. New money laundering schemes emerge all the time. Banks and other financial institutions need to constantly monitor data and patterns to catch new schemes when they emerge. 

Traditional anti-money laundering approaches use relational databases to store data. Looking for patterns within data stored in tables is time consuming and requires a lot of manual work. It’s also easy to miss connections within the data that might be a money laundering red flag. 

Low level signals within your data can be the key to detecting new money laundering schemes. Linkurious Enterprise financial crime investigation platform can help you detect those signals, offering a swift, precise, and intuitive way to explore your data and the relationships within it.

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