One day, you find a no-brainer deal online. Or a job offer that’s too good to be true. Or a lottery email.
On another day, you start getting calls from investigators about issues you can’t relate to. All you know is you had the luck to get easy money from some stranger. What’s going on?
You could be working for the mafia without even knowing it.
But what do they want from you? This time, scammers don’t care about your money, but something more valuable.
Criminals already have the money they need, but they are having a hard time using it, since it comes from hot sources. Of course, they could ignore the banks and handle only dollar bills, but sometimes this is not possible for one reason or another.
They need a legitimate middleman with no relation to their business. Any average Joe could do the job. That’s when you come in (unfortunately).
- Money Laundering: The Truth About “Good” Opportunities
- Can You Prevent Money Laundering?
- 7 Money Laundering Techniques To Fund Criminals
- How To Respond To Money Laundering Schemes
Money Laundering: The Truth About “Good” Opportunities
You may have heard the saying: “Money has no value if you can’t use it.”
“Dirty money” is the only asset that looks identical to real cash, which allows criminals to trade it without people’s suspicion. Money laundering stands for the countless techniques used to make illegal money look real.
As a result, people can move large sums efficiently while giving all the risk to a random victim. Few keys make laundering special:
- Unlike advance fee fraud, fraudsters keep their word. You spend a few hours a week on a simple assistant job and get paid a lot of money to do it.
- It’s the reverse of identity theft. Here, you are the one who takes the other’s (criminal) identity. If the criminal does anything wrong, authorities make YOU pay for it.
- Con men only make money orders. That’s a red flag in check scams, but not in money laundering.
Criminals in this position have a deadline: it’s only a matter of time when they get caught and lose the money. That’s why they don’t mind losing some cash if that frees them from their risk. As for you, it could mean claims for terrorist funding, political corruption, stolen assets, sexual child abuse, weapon smuggling, drug trafficking, etc.
Anybody can launder money using three steps, which make you almost untraceable.
- Placement: Fraudsters pick a method from the dozens of variations to put their money into the banking system. They’ll likely use a different method on each transfer for higher security. It requires someone to delegate that risk.
- Layering: The assistant moves the money from one (legit) business to another as many times as possible. The longer the chain, the harder it’s to find the real con man.
- Integrating: Now clean, fraudsters use the legit account money to fund their activities.
What If You Say Yes?
If you reject the offer, nothing will happen. Fraudsters send mass emails, so someone will take it sooner or later. Let’s imagine you choose to work for the mafia (without knowing it):
- They send you the instructions for the job, their terms, and the offer to accept.
- You do what they told you to do.
- You get a generous paycheck, which motivates you to take the next job, scaling the risk.
You repeat this process over again until the criminals no longer need you or the authorities to find you. Con men change “mules” as often as they change laundering tactics, so don’t expect a stable long-term relationship.
Everyone knows scammers will usually get caught eventually. If you don’t know who you’re dealing with, you may find yourself responsible for dozens of crimes with no chance to prove it wrong.
Can You Prevent Money Laundering?
It’s not surprising how often victims fall for these scams. Unlike scams for profit, money laundering has no short term losses for the victim, which makes it easy to confuse with a legit opportunity.
And it’s everywhere. That local restaurant you had dinner last month could be a money laundering technique. The same applies to casinos, inactive corporations, bargain sellers, auctions, and gaming sites. Take a look at these red flags to check if you’re safe.
The Trap Of Easy
Someone wants to hire you as a virtual assistant to manage funds such as donations. In plain words, they pay you to move large sums from point A to point B. They could do it themselves, but you know how busy millionaires are!
If they’re abroad, they’ll use it as an excuse to delegate the task. Or perhaps their bank shows them an error, so they need you to do it for them.
It creates the illusion you are valuable enough to get paid $3,000, even if you only work two hours a week. If it’s too good to be true…
Unusual Payment Methods
They want you to use specific payment methods, no variations allowed. Same story with your paycheck: only cash orders.
Companies may stick to a single method, but using unusual means is a red flag. Wire transfers, P2P, and crypto transactions can keep the identities unknown, which is why scammers use it so often.
They Take Initiative
They reach out to you with an offer you can’t refuse. A well-crafted email, credibility markers, and a generous paycheck.
As a virtual assistant, you’d be lucky to find a $500/mo gig after applying for hundreds of offers, and the job would still be another grind. These guys offer over $2,000 for a task that takes as little time as brushing your teeth every day. That alone should be suspicious.
They Don’t Scam You Directly
The last three flags already tell criminals from legit businesses. If they don’t want your money— and you know they’re onto a scam— you can be sure the price will be much higher.
You may enjoy a few thousand dollars a month, but then sacrifice your liberty and get into complicated cases with the FBI. And once they catch you, the con men stop all contact with you along with the paycheck.
You could turn that dirty money into real assets, sell them fast at bargain prices, and get rid of the burden. All the time, business owners are hunting for the best deal, buying low and selling high. Of course, they don’t mind how the client pays as long as they get the funds.
So entrepreneurs can get along quite well with the mafia. But like freelancers, they ignore they become a link to criminal activity, potentially losing it all.
The same applies to auctions: the most aggressive bidder wins. You may lose a bit for paying too much, but at least you keep most of the amount.
7 Money Laundering Techniques To Fund Criminals
#1 Make It Legit
The best way to hide illegal affairs? Create a real business so that people see it illogical to link you with a crime. Even if you make some mistakes, your reputation can hide it.
The mafia manages several local businesses to avoid drawing attention. Pizzerias, pubs, construction, real estate, gambling, garbage collection.
When there’s too much illegal cash, they can inflate the restaurant’s daily cash receipt and distribute it. If someone finds out, they suspect the local, not the criminal organization.
When they can’t open the locals themselves, they pull on racketeering tactics to make local owners obey. Also known as Front Businesses.
#2 Smurfing / Cash Smuggling
It’s easier to deposit $1000 ten times than placing $10K at once. Smurfing uses many accounts and channels to split the amount to fly under the radar (and avoid taxes).
The more money, the more you need to break it down.
- You bid on dozens of local auctions every week
- You split the amount among countless of owned locals
- You hire virtual assistants to use their accounts for you
- You create synthetic identities from stolen data to open more bank accounts
With enough work, you could make hundreds of transfers, moving hundreds of thousands a week, if not millions.
#3 Shell Companies
Local businesses sound great in theory, but you can only do it so many times before the truth comes out.
“Shell companies” are inactive, legally registered corporations. A criminal can hide using their name, and nobody would notice.
Else, they can manipulate them to validate their brand. If their business partners with three official corporations, you’ll assume their company is legal as well. You didn’t check it: the relation is a psychological trick.
Gambling. Another business to freely move millions without suspicion. But what kind of criminal would bet his high-risk money on a poker game? Hardly. They negotiate behind the scenes instead.
Of course, you can’t just tell anyone. Casinos may report you as well, so this trick requires either owning the casino, having good connections, threatening owners or simply by losing a small amount of your play money and then converting it back.
The casino dealer may as well agree to manipulate the game to make the con man win. The criminal agrees to come in on a day with a lot of players and risk his big stack of dirty money. This amount will attract more players to the game.
Once others have put enough money on the table, the dealer helps the con man to win and take it all. He bribes the dealer with other players’ losses and walks away with his (now clean) money.
#5 Auctions & Virtual Currency
In gaming sites, you can make several small consecutive payments to turn dirty money into virtual currency. Some video games let you trade in-game coins for USD (Bitcoin games like Zinga’s, for example). This “rich player” cashes out the money clean, as if he earned it from the game, although a small part goes for transfer fees.
Online auctions are similar: you bid to buy assets to then sell them for clean money again. To add more security, they join small auctions with multiple accounts.
#6 Lottery Scams
A scammer researches about the latest lotteries and wins. They find the winners’ contact information and buy their tickets with (dirty) cash.
But no-one would believe a lucky man would win eight times in a row, so they contact the other winners. They collect the second price or the third.
If a criminal has “won” too many times, he can send another trusted cohort to claim the ticket for him.
The inverse can happen too. The con man sends thousands of lottery phishing emails to random people, then uses that stolen information to swap the amounts himself.
#7 Bargain Prices
Scammers reach out to providers with a cheap offer for a large volume order. They don’t like getting paid with money orders, but the deal is so good they won’t refuse.
Criminals convert their fortune into assets, and business owners are left with the clues.
How To Respond To Money Laundering Schemes
Once you realize it’s a scam, it’s easy to prevent: just ignore the offer. Criminals may have your data, but they won’t do anything. If someone takes the offer among the thousands of emails sent, they forget about you.
If people don’t realize the dangers of money laundering, they’ll be responsible for financing criminals. People who may cause terrorist attacks, manipulate politics, or manipulate our favorite brands.
Crime has a price, and if it’s big enough, all of us pay for that risk. If you report and share it with others, you’re stopping crime by stopping their financing.
Now, what if you need that money? Some people choose to risk their lives for the comfort of a paycheck. Your freedom isn’t worth that price.
Wait, that doesn’t mean you can’t make fast money easy. Instead of working with the mob, you could flip it: work for the government and you could get paid for it as well. Your report is priceless.
The next time you get a money laundering email:
- You can spot the scam, say “No“, delete it, and act as if it never happened.
- You can accept, make questions, and gather information to report them later.
All you need to do is send a Suspicious Activity Report to the National Crime Investigation.