What is Money Laundering? Everything You Need to Know » Small Business Bonfire

If you’ve seen Breaking Bad or Ozark, you’ve probably heard the term “Money Laundering” thrown around a bit.

In this article, we’ll talk about money laundering, how it works, and how you can prevent it as a business owner.

So, What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering is a process that hides the origins of money obtained through illegitimate means.

This can be done in several ways, but all are designed to make it difficult or impossible to track the funds back to their source.

How Does Money Laundering Work?

Money laundering works by making money appear to have been generated from legitimate sources.

Money laundering usually involves three steps: 

  • Money placement
  • Money layering
  • Money integration

Money Placement

The first step in money laundering is called money placement. This is when the dirty money is placed into the financial system in a way that makes it difficult to track.

The most common way to do this is by depositing it into a bank account or buying property or cars.

Dirty money can also be hidden in offshore accounts or sent through wire transfers.

Money Layering

The second step in money laundering is called layering. This is when criminals move their money through a series of bank accounts or transactions to make it harder to trace.

They do this by splitting the money into small amounts and sending it to different places around the world. This makes it difficult for law enforcement officials to track the money and determine where it came from.

Layering can also be done by buying assets such as property or cars with dirty money. The criminals then sell these assets for clean money, which makes it even harder to track the source of the funds.

Money Integration

In the third step of money laundering, the money is integrated into the legitimate financial system.

This can be done in several ways, but typically it involves depositing the money into a bank account or buying property or other assets.

The goal is to make the money look like it came from a legitimate source so it can be used without suspicion.

One way to do this is through shell companies. A shell company is a company that exists only on paper and has no actual operations. 

It’s often used to hide the valid owner of a property or asset. The company will open a bank account and deposit the laundered money into it.

Then, it will use that account to buy property or assets. This makes it look like the money came from a legitimate source and can be used without suspicion.

Another way to integrate laundered money into the financial system is by using fake invoices. 

Launderers will create fake invoices for goods or services that were never provided.

They’ll then deposit the money from those invoices into a bank account or use it to buy property or assets. This makes it look like the money was earned through legitimate means.

There are also several ways to move money around once it’s been integrated into the financial system.

Launderers can use wire transfers, debit cards, and other methods to move the money around without attracting attention.

They can also use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to move funds anonymously. 

These methods allow launderers to move their money around without leaving any traces behind.

what is money laundering - meeting

Different Types of Money Laundering

The different types of money laundering can be divided into the following 6 main categories:

  • Smurfing
  • Investing in commodities
  • Investing in physical Assets
  • Gambling
  • Counterfeiting
  • Shell companies


Smurfing is a process where criminals break up their illegal money into small amounts and spread it out amongst many different bank accounts.

This makes it much harder for authorities to track the money and determine where it came from.

This type of money laundering is often used by drug dealers and criminals who want to avoid getting caught.

By spreading their money out over many different accounts, they can make it much more difficult for authorities to track them down.

Investing in Commodities

Investing in commodities is one way that criminals can launder money.

They buy commodities, such as gold, diamonds, or art, with dirty money and sell them for clean money. 

This is a popular way to launder money because it’s challenging to track the movement of commodities. Criminals can also use commodities to hide their money from the government.

Investing in Physical Assets

Investing in physical assets is a popular way to launder money because it is relatively easy to do and can be very profitable.

Criminals often invest in precious metals, artwork, and real estate. 

Precious metals are a popular choice because they are easily converted into cash and can be stored in various locations.

Artwork is also a popular investment because it can be stored safely and is often difficult to track down. Real estate is another popular investment because it is relatively easy to purchase and can provide a steady income stream.

There are several risks associated with investing in physical assets. First, it can be difficult to sell these assets without attracting attention.

Second, there is always the risk that the assets will be seized by the government or become worthless. Finally, these assets can be difficult to conceal from law enforcement officials.

Despite these risks, investing in physical assets can be very profitable for criminals. It is essential to understand the different types of money laundering to protect yourself from becoming a victim of this crime.


Gambling is a process where criminals try to disguise the origins of their dirty money by placing it into gambling activities.

This can be done in a few different ways, such as buying gambling chips with cash, investing money in a casino or online gambling site, or even donating money to a religious or charitable organization that operates a lottery.

By doing this, the criminals hope to make it difficult for authorities to track the money back to them.

Gambling can also be used to launder money in other ways. For example, criminals may set up fake businesses and then use those businesses to gamble with their dirty money.

They may create fake identities and bank accounts specifically for the purpose of gambling. This makes it more difficult for investigators to track down the source of the money.


Counterfeiting money is possibly the most serious form of money laundering and is also the most difficult to detect.

The criminals who engage in this activity often have advanced technical skills and knowledge about how to produce high-quality counterfeit currency.

They also have networks of people who help them circulate the fake bills, often making it difficult to track down the perpetrators.

Counterfeiting can be very lucrative, as criminals can make a lot of money by passing off fake bills as real ones. In some cases, they may even be able to get the fake bills into circulation before the authorities realize that they are counterfeit.

This can cause significant financial losses for businesses and consumers alike.

One of the biggest challenges for law enforcement agencies when it comes to counterfeiting is that criminals often use sophisticated methods and equipment to produce fake bills.

This can make it difficult to tell the difference between genuine and counterfeit currency. In addition, criminals often have networks of people who help them circulate counterfeit bills, which makes it challenging to track them down.

Despite these challenges, law enforcement agencies are working hard to crack down on counterfeiting operations.

They are using new technologies and strategies to detect counterfeit currency and track down the criminals involved in this activity. In addition, they are working closely with businesses and consumers to educate them about how to identify fake bills.

Shell Companies

As we discussed earlier, shell companies are often used in money laundering schemes because they can be easily used to disguise the origins of money.

The company’s owners can be anonymous, and the company can be used to funnel money or assets through without anyone knowing where the money is coming from.

Shell companies are also often used in tax evasion schemes, as they can be used to hide income and assets from the government.

How To Tell if Someone is Laundering Money?

Here are some ways to tell if someone is laundering money:

  • They move money around frequently
  • They make large deposits in cash
  • They hide their assets
  • They buy/sell luxury items with cash

They Move Money Around Frequently

A great way to tell if someone is laundering money is by looking at their bank account activity. Money launderers often move money around frequently to avoid detection.

They will often make numerous small deposits and withdrawals to mix up the money trail. If you notice that someone is making a lot of small deposits and withdrawals, it could be a sign that they are laundering money.

what is money laundering - cash

They Make Large Deposits in Cash

When someone is laundering money, they will often make large deposits in cash. This is because it is easier to hide large sums of money when it is in cash form. If you notice someone making large, sudden deposits in cash, this may be a sign that they are laundering money.

You should also be suspicious if the person seems to be trying to avoid scrutiny from the authorities or from the public. If you suspect someone may be laundering money, it is best to report it to the authorities.

They Hide Their Assets

One of the most common ways to tell if someone is laundering money is by their behavior when it comes to hiding their assets. Those who are laundering money often try to keep their finances and assets separate from their normal day-to-day activities.

This can include the following: 

  • Setting up offshore bank accounts
  • Creating dummy corporations
  • Investing in property and other high-value items through third parties

They Buy/Sell Luxury Items With Cash

If someone is buying or selling luxury items with cash, it could be a sign that they are laundering money.

Buying and selling luxury items with large sums of cash is often a sign that the money was earned illegally and needs to be moved around without detection.

For example, if the person is buying a lot of luxury items that they couldn’t afford with their income, that could be a sign that they are trying to disguise the source of their money.

Additionally, if the person is selling luxury items very quickly or at a discount, that could also be a sign that they are trying to get rid of the evidence.

How Can You Prevent Money Laundering?

Preventing money laundering is an essential part of any financial system. Money launderers can cause severe economic damage and disrupt the functioning of markets and institutions.

what is money laundering - handcuffs

Use Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Policies

One way to prevent money laundering is by using substantial Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies and procedures.

These include conducting regular customer due diligence checks and monitoring suspicious activity.

By implementing strong AML policies and procedures, financial institutions can ensure that they comply with the law and are not facilitating money laundering activities.

Anti-money laundering checks (AML checks) are important in combating money laundering because they help financial institutions identify and prevent suspicious transactions before they can be completed.

These checks should be performed on all customers and transactions to ensure they are legitimate.

Strong AML compliance policies are essential for businesses to prevent money laundering.

Strictly Follow KYC Requirements

One way to prevent money laundering is strictly following KYC (know your customer) requirements.

This means verifying customers’ identity and understanding their transactions’ purpose. Financial institutions must also report any suspicious activity to the government.

Financial institutions can help stop criminals from using the banking system to launder money by taking these measures.

Train Your Staff

Staff should be familiar with the procedures for reporting any suspected money laundering activity.

There are a few key steps that you can take to help prevent money laundering:

  • Establish strong anti-money laundering policies and procedures
  • Train your staff to recognize the warning signs of money laundering
  • Implement a system for monitoring transactions for suspicious activity
  • Cooperate with law enforcement and other regulatory agencies in investigations of money laundering activities

Set up a Compliance Program

A compliance program should include the following:

  • Risk assessment
  • Policies and procedures
  • A compliance officer

The first step in creating a compliance program is to conduct a risk assessment.

The risk assessment should identify the activities that could lead to money laundering. 

It should also identify the areas of the business most at risk for money laundering.

After completing the risk assessment, the business should develop policies and procedures to mitigate those risks.

The policies and procedures should include measures to detect money laundering, as well as measures to prevent it.

Finally, the business should appoint a compliance officer. The compliance officer ensures that the business complies with anti-money laundering regulations. They also ensure that employees are following the company’s policies and procedures. If you have a compliance program in place already, you should update it regularly.

Vigilance and Monitoring of Transactions

Financial institutions should monitor their customers’ transactions for suspicious activity.

They should look out for any unusual or large amounts of money being moved around, as this could signify money laundering.

They should also keep an eye on changes in behavior or spending habits that may suggest money laundering. Financial institutions should report any suspicious activity to the government and cooperate with law enforcement in any investigations.

Financial institutions can help protect themselves from money laundering activities by following these steps. These types of checks can also help protect against eCommerce fraud.

Executive Wrap Up

Money laundering is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole. It is important to be aware of what money laundering looks like so that you can spot it if it occurs.

Following these tips can help prevent money laundering and protect yourself from legal consequences.

Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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