What are the 3 Stages of Money Laundering?

Stages of Money Laundering

Money laundering refers to the illegal process of making large amounts of money generated through criminal activity like drug trafficking or financing terrorism, which appears to have come from a lawful source. The money derived from these criminal activities is deemed “dirty,” and the laundering process is employed to render them seemingly legitimate and clean. Placement, layering, and integration are the 3 stages of money laundering. This article will explore the 3 stages of money laundering process and ways to combat money laundering criminals.

There are Three Stages of Money Laundering:

1. Placement Stage

It is one of the 3 stages of money laundering, which involves transferring funds to a legitimate source through financial institutions, casinos, financial instruments, etc. while hiding its head. There are several ways of money laundering explained in the related articles at the end of this article. This is the most vulnerable stage of money laundering, as criminals hold large sums of money and inject it into the financial system, which can attract the attention of law enforcement.

2. Layering Stage

The second stage in money laundering is layering, which is sometimes called the “structuring phase.” It divides the money into small transactions and makes it difficult to detect and learn about money laundering. This often involves the international movement of money, so that law enforcement is unable to easily track financial returns from illegal procedures.

At this point, the currency circulates the world, being exchanged in foreign markets. Criminals often convert currency into monetary instruments when it enters the financial system undetected. The product can be a bank draft or money order. In the modern world, funds can also trade different stocks or currencies in different markets.

Another popular way for criminals to track is to buy properties for cash and sell them. Assets can be sold domestically or abroad, which further complicates their traceability and thus their seizure.

3. Extraction Stage

The extraction phase is the final stage of money laundering. Money is now legally returned to criminals after being introduced into the financial system, often broken down into multiple smaller financial transactions. Criminals can now legally recover their illicit funds after fully integrating them into a legitimate source and can use them for any purposes. Most acquisitions are usually made through the purchase of luxury assets like property, jewelry, etc.

How to Combat Money Laundering?

Anti-money laundering (AML) is the financial function of organizations dealing with public money, which encompasses laws, regulations, and procedures designed to prevent criminals from exchanging money obtained through illegal activities. Read more about anti-money laundering in this article. According to an article published in Thomson Reuters, five methods are recommended to fight against the 3 stages of money laundering. They are:

  • Improving Research with Technology:

With the advancement of technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), detecting false positives and conducting research 24/7 to lighten the burden of anti-money laundering regulators (AMLs) eliminates active wrongdoing and expands research.

  • Regular communication:

Regular communication between different parties, including law enforcement, government, and regulatory bodies, etc. is extremely important. Communication can keep all parties informed, verify suspicions, identify possible networks, and strengthen public-private partnerships, ultimately creating a united front against money launderers.

  • Leverage data analytics to detect patterns:

As more data becomes available today, regulators can identify and detect patterns through past data information and pattern development.

  • System Standardization:

With different anti-fraud measures in different regulatory bodies, some problems may arise from different jurisdictions using a network of old computer systems. Without standardization, it would be difficult to communicate and process data collected with other parties, thereby hindering fraud detection.

  • Training:

Having the right staff is essential to detect fraud. Training is needed, and companies can consider training employees, educating stakeholders about any suspicious activities, and taking appropriate action if there is a sign of fraud. It is also essential to have someone in charge of monitoring news and technology developments and overseeing fraud detection.

Examples of Money Laundering Offenses 

Several national and international laws define the scope of money laundering offenses within the legal framework. For instance, the Proceeds of Crime Act of 2002 in the U.K. identifies three distinct categories of money laundering offenses:

  1. Concealing Offense: Whenever someone hides, transfers, disguises, or moves criminal assets out of the country.
  2. Arranging Offense: Whenever someone enters an arrangement that they know, or suspect will support a criminal in the use, acquisition, or control of criminal assets.
  3. Acquisition, Use, or Possession Offense: Whenever someone personally acquires, uses, or possesses criminal assets.

Engaging in any of these activities, whether the person is aware or simply suspects that the funds or property are derived from criminal activities, can lead to charges of committing a money laundering offense. To gain a deeper understanding of the laws applicable in your country and industry, seeking guidance from specialized legal counsel is advisable.


Money laundering is increasingly challenging to detect and track due to the development of technology and the integration of the economy between markets. We must understand the source of the money by having a fast and reliable identity verification system in place to stop criminals from laundering money. It becomes easier to track down criminals trying to carry out illegal money laundering activities with a reliable digital ID system.

Learn more – AML compliance checklist

What is the AML Process?

AML (Anti-Money Laundering) is a universally recognized term used to combat and prevent money-related financial crimes. The AML process includes a set of regulations, laws, and policies for restricting and combating money laundering activities and related offenses. Financial Institutions and banks are required to adhere to Anti-Money Laundering regulations.

What are the Main Types of Money Laundering?

Smurfs, Mules, and Shells are three basic types of money laundering used today. Other common types of money laundering criminals use include gambling, counterfeiting, investing in mobile valuable commodities that can be easily moved to other jurisdictions, and discreetly buying and selling valuable real estate assets.

What Is an Example of Money Laundering?

Imagine a scenario where a drug dealer has illicitly earned cash from selling drugs and wants to use that money to buy a new car. Since making a direct cash purchase would raise suspicion, the dealer decides to ‘launder’ the money to make it seem legitimate. To do this, the drug dealer, who also owns a cash-heavy laundromat, mixes the drug money with the laundromat’s cash. The combined cash is then deposited into a bank. Finally, the dealer writes a check from the laundromat’s account to buy the car without arousing suspicion.

How Can You Tell If Someone Is Laundering Money?

There are multiple red flags to look for, which may indicate money laundering. Some of these are suspicious or secretive behavior by someone around money matters, making significant cash transactions, owning an organization that serves no fundamental objective, performing overly complex transactions, or forming various transactions just under the reporting threshold.

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