The Three Stages Of Money Laundering

The Three Stages Of Money Laundering

#AML #3stages #MoneyLaundering #Placement #Layering #Integration

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NOVEMBER 10, 2022
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8 Minutes

Everyone's heard of money laundering, but not everyone knows how it really works. Money laundering is the sneaky process of moving illegal money from one place to another to make it look like it came from a legal source. In other words, it's like giving your dirty money a bath so it comes out squeaky clean.  

This process of ‘cleaning’ the illegally obtained money typically has three stages. In this blog post, we will explore each stage in more detail.

What are the three stages of money laundering?

The process of money laundering consists of three distinct stages: placement, layering, and integration.

1. Placement: This is the first stage of money laundering where illegal funds are introduced into the financial system. This is often done by smurfing, buying assets with cash and then selling for profit, or by exchanging cash for a more liquid asset such as gold or diamonds. Once the money is in the system, it's time for stage two: layering.  

2. Layering: This is the second stage of money laundering where the criminal tries to distance themselves from the illegal funds by converting it into other currencies and moving it around different financial institutions or even different countries! This is often done through wire transfers or changing the ownership of assets such as property. Once the paper trail is well and truly obscured, it's time for stage three: integration.

3. Integration: Once the funds have moved around enough, criminals move onto the third and final stage of money laundering where they will attempt to integrate the funds back into the legitimate economy in a way that appears legal. This is often done by investing in businesses or using the funds to purchase luxury items, like sports cars or valuable art pieces. And voila, these are the three stages of money laundering. Blink and you will easily miss it.

Why is it important to identify each stage of money laundering?

Identifying each stage of money laundering is important because each stage presents its risks and challenges. For example, the placement stage is often seen as the riskiest because its where illegal funds are generated. This means that there is a greater chance of detection and seizure by authorities through rigorous AML measures.  

Layering, on the other hand, is seen as less risky because the funds have already been moved into the financial system and are more difficult to trace back to the original source. However, layering can still be risky if not done correctly because authorities may be able to follow the trail of transactions back to the source.  

Integration is seen as the least risky because by this stage, the funds have been fully integrated into legitimate businesses and accounts and are much more difficult to trace back to criminal activity.

Each of these stages presents its own unique challenges for law enforcement and financial institutions. For example, the layering stage typically involves a lot of financial activity, so banks can use artificial intelligence to flag unusual patterns that may indicate money laundering. Financial institutions can also be on the lookout for structuring or the integration stage, since large cash withdrawals are often a red flag.

By understanding how criminals launder money, we can develop better strategies for detecting and preventing financial crime.

Is there anything governments and reporting entities can do to stop money laundering and falling victim to any of these three stages?

There are a number of things governments, organisations, and reporting entities can do to prevent any of the stages in money laundering. Some of these include:

  • Implementing know your customer (KYC) guidelines3
  • Putting in place anti-money laundering (AML) policies and procedures
  • Putting in place anti-money laundering (AML) policies and procedures
  • Strengthen AML reporting requirements  
  • Conducting regular AML training for staff
  • Reporting suspicious activity to authorities
  • Raising public awareness of money laundering and how it works

One of the most important things that entities can do to stop money laundering is to ensure that they have AML reporting thresholds in place. These thresholds help to identify unusual or suspicious activity so that it can be reported to the relevant authorities.  

Another critical step is to strengthen AML reporting requirements. Currently, there are many loopholes that allow criminal organizations to slip through the cracks. By closing these loopholes, we can make it much more difficult for money launderers to operate undetected.

Finally, we need to invest in technology that can help us detect and track suspicious financial activity. Artificial intelligence is already being used by some financial institutions to identify anomalous transactions. As this technology becomes more refined, it will become an increasingly powerful tool in the fight against money laundering.

Any statistics on how much money is laundered during each stage?

Statistics and figures on money laundering are notoriously difficult to come by. This is because, by definition, money laundering is the act of hiding or obscuring the origins of illegal funds. As a result, it can be very hard to track how much money is being laundered at any given time.  

However, some estimates place the total amount of laundered money at around $2 trillion annually. This figure includes both the placement and layering stages of money laundering, as well as the integration of illegal funds into the legitimate economy.  

While this is just an estimate, it gives you an idea of the enormous scale of this illicit activity.

How can MemberCheck help prevent any stage of money laundering?

MemberCheck can help prevent any stage of money laundering by providing a searchable database of more than 2 billion names worldwide. This allows organisations to screen customers and business partners quickly and easily for potential risks associated with money laundering or other criminal activities.  

In addition, MemberCheck help organisations keep up to date with changing regulations by providing alerts whenever new or revised regulations are published that could impact their operations.


It is important to be aware of each stage of money laundering so that you can identify any suspicious activity. There are various things that organisations can do to stop money laundering, such as implementing KYC checks and establishing robust AML policies.  

At MemberCheck, we help organisations prevent money laundering by conducting KYC checks on their behalf. We use innovative technology to screen customers against global watchlists and verify their identity documents in real-time.

Reach out if you would like to find out more about how we can help your organisation build trusted interactions by mitigating fraud and risk.

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