Laundering Digital Money
Before I started researching for this paper, I knew as much about laundering money as those goofy guys on Office Space who had to look up the word in the dictionary when they found themselves with some illegal proceeds. It’s interesting to me that I hear so much on the news about the crimes people commit, but very little about how they get rid of the cash. Perhaps law enforcement people don’t want to give away their secret tracking methods, but it seems that there would be more mention about laundering schemes and detection. Especially since “criminal activity which generates ‘dirty money’ is often extremely difficult to detect”, and “following the ‘money trail’ has been a basic strategy to combat these forms of sophisticated crime.”
The first part of my paper is dedicated to describing the history of laundering money, or how they did it in the “olden days”. The second part describes how criminals can or will clean their laundry, all thanks to a few zeros and ones.
What is Money Laundering?
Where the exact term “Money Laundering” came from, is up in the air. Well, someone probably knows the real reason, but I found a couple of different possibilities. The first one is that Mafia members bought Laundromats so that they could mix their ‘dirty’ money with the ‘clean’ money being brought in by the Laundromats. The second possibility stated by Robinson is:
"Money laundering is called what it is because that perfectly describes what takes place - illegal, or dirty, money is put through a cycle of transactions, or washed, so that it comes out the other end as legal, or clean, money.”
So what does the term mean now-a-days? Well, J. Orlin Grabbe’s somewhat cynical interpretation is that “the ‘crime’ of money laundering boils down to a single, basic prohibited act: Doing something and not telling the government about it.” At first I thought this was way out there, but then I started looking at the lengths the government goes through to prohibit and track money laundering. (See the section on legislation). It seems to me that money laundering is and shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I mean the real crime is how they got their money. It seems to me that all the laws and such are just to make it easier to get the guy who did the crime. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. I’ll save the rest of this for the legislation section.
Back to the definition of money laundering, this is how I see it. Criminals get some cash in not so nice ways – drug dealing, prostitution, etc. If they go around spending all that money, and then neglect to claim the money on their taxes (what would they claim it as if they did?), or can’t explain the source to their neighbor Fred, someone’s going to get wise and start asking questions. So instead, the criminals get pretty tricky and find cool ways to make their money look like it was earned legitimately.
Many articles that I read refer to money laundering as a three-step process. I don’t imagine that criminals feel any moral obligation to follow this process, but it makes sense to me, so I’ll describe it.
The three stages are placing, layering, and integration.
Placement: So the first step of hiding the cash is to get it out of your hot little hands. Most popular way of doing this? Putting it in the bank or a place like unto it.
Layering: Now if you leave all that money in the bank, people are going to get a little suspicious. So, the next thing to do is farm out all of that cash into so many complicated transactions that the poor tracker assigned to your case loses his mind and decides to give up. Most common way to do this? Traveler’s checks, putting it into many different accounts, or other such untraceable means. The important thing is that the through these transactions the identity of the criminal becomes harder to find.
Integration: The final stage of money laundering is that of integration. This stage is where the monies are combined with legitimately obtained money.  By the time it reaches this point, it is very difficult for authorities to distinguish between legal and illegal wealth. 
An example of these three stages is given on “Billy’s Money Laundering Information Website”.  During the placement stage, cash is paid into a bank. It may or may not be mixed with money from legitimate business. During the layering stage, wire transfers move the money out of the country (these transfers are disguised as legitimate proceeds of a business). Finally during the Integration stage, false loan repayments or forged invoices are used as a cover for the laundered money.
Of course, the more the government starts to crack down on money laundering, the more creative the criminals must become in implementations of the process.
Like I was saying before, the laws targeted at money laundering help the authorities to catch the criminals after the act. This isn’t all that surprising, since it is estimated that $500 billion dollars is laundered worldwide.
But these laws weren’t always there. Before 1970, banks had no incentive to prevent people from using their establishment to launder money. Now not only are the criminals accountable for their money, but, as we will soon see, so are the bank managers, middlemen, and any Joe off the street. Grabbe writes “The scope and arrogance of the money-laundering statutes knows no bounds.” 
Since this article isn’t really about law, and since I’m not very good at understanding it myself, I’m not going to delve too heavily into it. However, since the need for criminals to use modern day means for laundering money is an answer to the legislation, it’s only fair that I cover it.
The problem with catching people who launder money is that the authorities need some help. I mean they can make all the acts they want prohibiting it and setting up consequences, but without someone to snitch, or some way to look at financial records, it really doesn’t do them much good.
One thing that happened is that someone decided the magical amount of cash that would alert officials to money laundering. That magic number is $10,000, and in 1970 an act was made. U.S. Section 5313 of the Banking Secrecy Act says that anytime someone tries to move more than $10,000 in cash around they have to start filling out reports. More specifically, the Currency Transaction Report (CTR) which is IRS Form 4789 and/or a Currency Transaction Report by Casinos (CTRC) which is IRS Form 5316. As if that weren’t enough forms, there’s also one for transporting money in and out of the U.S. Once the magic number is reached for this, Section 5316 says you have to fill out a Currency or Monetary Instrument Report (CMIR).  There is also a report for people using foreign bank accounts (the FBAR) and every other $10,000 transactions requires the IRS form 8300.  Now I don’t know much about filling out forms for the IRS, or about obeying acts, but it seems to me that the only people filling out these forms are going to be the people not laundering the money. All the criminals are going to find a way around it.
Even though all these forms were required after the Banking Secrecy Act, it still wasn’t necessarily against the law to launder money. Plus you could still have smurfs make several transactions, each of which is under the $10,000 limit, to several different banks.
Then came the Money Laundering Control act of 1986. This act very was focused on anyone who even thought about helping someone launder money. More specifically, it
1. Said that criminals could be fined and go to jail for laundering money.
2. Said no to smurfing.
3. Punished anyone who knowingly passed dirty money along, or were “willfully blind” to it.
4. Said that banks had to play by their rules.
An example of how it hurts not to be on the lookout was seen when American Express was fined $7 million dollars for not detecting the use of their company for money laundering, and will have to pay $3 more million to educate their employees on catching those criminals. Funny me, I didn’t realize that tracking down criminals was part of the job for banks and credit card companies.
There have been many acts dealing with money laundering made after the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986, but I didn’t find any of them too interesting. Most of them dealt with increasing the punishment or allowing for certain exceptions to the whole form process. (The IRS found themselves with too many forms to sort through, so they had to start allowing for some exceptions).
The government has tried pretty hard to cover all the possible scenarios so that being involved in money laundering in any manner is a crime. Thus if they can catch anyone in the act of money laundering, they can collect the proceeds and distribute them in the manner that normal crime proceeds are distributed. Sounds like a good deal to me.
Money is heavy. It doesn’t seem like it’s all that heavy to me, but that’s because I generally only have a couple dollars in my pocket, (and that’s only when I’ve been having a particularly rich day). Apparently a US $20 bill weighs about 1 gram. If you had to move around $1,000,000 (50,000) bills, it would weigh about 110 pounds.  So, if say, you wanted to take the $1,000,000 and deposit it into a foreign bank account, your arm will be pretty tired after the flight. If instead, you were able to electronically transfer $1,000,000, it would weigh absolutely nothing. Plus you won’t have to pay for overnight stays in foreign countries, or any other transaction costs.
I think electronic transfers are becoming very popular, not only to criminals, but also to every day folks. Most of the time they are fast, they can be done from anywhere, and they require no contact with other humans. I mention this last advantage, because I think it holds particular importance for money launderers. People trying to detect money laundering can write programs that will detect when money is being laundered, but as soon as the criminals figure out what criteria that is being judged by, they will soon change their ways. It’s hard for computers to have gut feelings or suspicions about people. Human beings are much better perceiving when things are not right, even when all the rules are being followed.
There are good things for the investigators when it comes to money laundering though. For one thing, the whole form process could be more easily automated. Also, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and other techniques can be used to perceive money laundering.
Types of Electronic Transfers:
The use of telecommunications in transferring money has been around for a lot of time. Western Union was using the telegraph to make transfers as early as 1860.
Then in 1918 the US Federal Reserve System started using wire transfers. It didn't stop there. As time continued on, banks became more and more dependent on transferring money using electronic messages. For the most part though, the general masses were not privy to such technology (unless of course they went through the bank).
Today, electronic transfers are just a way of life. It is very easy to move money around the world, many times faster than you could hand a dollar bill to the person next to you. In 1995 it was estimated that there were approximately 700,000 wire transfers daily. The problem with wire transfers is that a lot of times there is a lot of tracking that goes along with them -- which is not so good for money launderers.
But there is still hope for money launderers, for there are other ways to represent money. For instance, instead of bringing cash into a country to convert it, there is something called Eurobond trading. How this works is that someone puts some bonds into a vault. Once they are there, they are pretty much there to stay. After that, people buy and sell Eurobonds, or coupons, for the money that is in the vault. The coupons can be exchanged from person to person by a process in which both parties send a message to the person in charge of the depository. It sounds like this is incredibly trackable, and thus wouldn't be a good thing for criminals to use, but apparently there are many coupons that look the same, so it's not so easy to tell who owns which specific bond.
Another hot money representation is that of ecash or Digital Cash. Over $32 million worth of ecash purchases have been made so far. This form of money is used mainly to make online purchases. You can get ecash by depositing money from your bank into an ecash account. At www.digicash.com I experimented with the feel of ecash. It's seems to be very easy to use. You don't have to give a lot of information like you do with a credit or debit card. It seems to me that if a lot of sights started using ecash, it would be very easy for criminals to quickly hide a lot of their proceeds.
One interesting thing about ecash is there is a feature of anonymity. The device you use to send out the cash prevents other people from knowing who you are. However, you can still prove that you did or did not make a payment with the ecash. This is also good for those people who are selling items. They cannot know who they are selling their things to, so they cannot be responsible for making sure that the ecash involved is not from a laundering scheme.
A big problem with ecash, which I already alluded to, is that you have to get the money from your bank onto an ecash account. Someone might get a tad suspicious if you suddenly were suddenly making a lot of transfers to an ecash account. One possible way of avoiding this problem is for the money launderers only to deal with electronic money. The only problem with this is that since ecash is anonymous, it would be hard for the money launderers to know who is giving them the money. However, this too could be solved by adding a middle man to the process who would receive the payments and pass them along.
Another method of representing cash is through the use of smart cards. Smart cards are a lot like ecash, but instead of having the money moved around the internet, they are pretty much used like a credit card, and you can transfer money from one card to another. Stanley Morris, Director of FINCEN states,
"Suppose [an] Internet user is a narcotics trafficker or an agent for a gang of sophisticated criminals of any other sort. Consider the invoices the trafficker might pay, the supplies the might order and the transactions he might accomplish if, for instance, he could download an unlimited amount of cash from a smart card to a computer, and then transmit those funds to other smart cards in locations around the world - all anonymously, all without an audit trail, and all without the need to resort to a traditional financial institution." 
Of course, in order for smart cards to be effective to money launders, they must be used enough by the general public that attention will not be drawn toward criminals as they are using the cards.
What will the government do?
I assume that the government will not like to lose their ability to catch money launderers (and thus the criminals who earned the cash illegally), so they will probably try and think of ways to get past the new advances in anonymous ecash, smart cards, etc. There are already so many exceptions to banks’ ability to keep customer's information anonymous, that it wouldn't surprise me if ecash and smart cards had to build in a way to track the information so that someone could look for money laundering. For example, software developed to track for such activity may have to be downloaded to sites that use ecash. The government could also limit the amount of money an ecash transaction could be for.
I'd be interested to see if the government got away with something like forcing their code onto websites. There are so many debates already about privacy, and whether or not it is all right for the government to spy on people in order that they can cut back on crime.
In my mind there is a thin line between doing what you need to do to catch criminals, and imposing on honest citizens' rights. Many times it seems as though law enforcement people will do whatever they need to do to catch the crook. One such way has turned out to be following the crook's money.
There are already tons of acts and regulations prohibiting anything to do with money laundering, but it is possible that with the onset of anonymous money transfers that many of those acts will be impossible to enforce. Then if the authorities are going to continue to outwit the criminals, they must make new acts to take control again.
I have to give credit to the law enforcement people. They have to play by the rules. The criminals can do whatever they need to do to win and only are concerned for the rules in-as-much as they don't get caught breaking them. However, our country is at least in theory based on not taking away rights from honest people, and privacy in my mind ranks right up there as far as rights go.
The future of money laundering is not entirely certain, but I can say this much. Criminals are not going to stop doing bad stuff for money, criminals are not going to stop finding creative ways to hide this money from authorities, and authorities are not going to stop trying to track down the criminals.
 TM and © 1999 Fox
 Grabosky and Smith Crime in the Digital Age (1998) pp. 175
 Note that this paper is written incredibly informally. If the word criminal, or any other inappropriate terminology offends anyone, then as long as you’re not my grading professor, put this down and turn to another.
 Billy, “Money Laundering, A Brief History” Internet (http://www.laundryman.u-net.com/home.htm) (26 April 1999)
 I don’t know who Robinson is, but I saw his quote on Billy’s Money Laundering Information Website (see footnote 3). It may be referring to the same Robinson that is quoted in Crime in the Digital Age (footnote 2). This refers to (Robinson 1994; United States, General Accounting Office 1996b)
 Grabbe, “Money Laundering, Electronic Cash, and Cryptological Anonymity” Internet (http://www.aci.net/kalliste/money2.htm) (May 1995)
“Information Technologies for the Control of Money Laundering” (September 1995) OTA-ITC-630 GPO stock#052-003-01436-0 pp. 4
 Id. 4
 Id. 7
 Id. 6
 Id. 6
 Id. 7
 Mark Bortner, “Cyberlaundering: Anonymous Digital Cash and Money Laundering” Internet (http://www.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/seminar/papers/bortner.htm#end62) (1996) States that “The name ‘smurf’ is from the hyperactive blue cartoon characters that seemed to be everywhere at once.”
 Id. 6
 There’s a great section in Information Technologies for the Control of Money Laundering (see footnote 7) entitled “Money Laundering and Law Enforcement” which talks more in depth about the laws governing money laundering if you more interested about them.
 Id. 6
 Id. 2
 Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, Information Technology for the Control of Money Laundering, iii (1995) (OTA-ITC-630)
 Id. 6
 eCash (http://www.digicash.com)
 Douglas, Fein, Indick, Mathews and Parker. The Emerging Law of Cyberbanking: Dealing Effectively with the New World of Electronic Banking and Bank Card Innovations. (1996)