Understanding the 3 Key Stages of Money Laundering 2023



Money laundering is a pervasive and complex issue, with criminals going to great lengths to legitimize the proceeds from their illicit activities. They aim to obscure the origins of “dirty money” and reintroduce it into the economy through legitimate means, eluding law enforcement authorities. This process comprises three crucial Money Laundering Stages: Placement, Layering, and Integration. In this extensive exploration, we’ll delve deep into each of these stages, providing comprehensive insights into the intricate world of money laundering. Furthermore, we’ll examine various techniques employed by money launderers and discuss how businesses can take proactive measures to prevent this criminal practice.

Placement Stage

The initial phase of money laundering is the placement stage. At this juncture, criminals need to insert their illegal funds into the legitimate financial system without attracting any unwanted attention. However, the challenge arises because the sum of money they are dealing with is often substantial, even when divided into smaller amounts. This phase is where many money launderers are apprehended due to the visibility of their actions. Using a robust KYC verification solution helps detect and stop most money laundering attempts at this stage. 

Layering Stage

The second stage, layering, is also known as structuring. It is the most intricate and clandestine phase of money laundering. In layering, criminals embark on international transactions, introducing complexities into the transaction history to obscure the audit trail. The primary aim is to create a convoluted web that confounds law enforcement agencies and hinders their ability to trace the illicit money’s source. Money launderers bank on the fact that authorities need substantial evidence or warrants to take action, which buys them precious time.

Integration Stage

The final stage of money laundering is the integration phase. During this stage, the laundered money is reintroduced into the hands of the criminal through various legitimate channels. This transaction occurs without government scrutiny, and even if authorities do investigate, the intricate layering from the previous stage often acts as a deterrent.

Money Laundering Stages – Examples

Money laundering is a pervasive issue, transcending various sectors and countries. Let’s explore some techniques employed by money launderers across the three stages.

Placement Stage

  1. Repayment of loans or credit card bills: Dirty money is often used to repay loans or credit card bills with digital lenders who may not be closely scrutinized by authorities.
  2. Dummy invoices: Criminals create dummy invoices to match the cash they intend to place, often using over/under-invoicing and false descriptions of goods and services to match the desired amount.
  3. Blending funds: Mixing illicit money with legitimate business sales provides a cover, making it challenging for Anti Money Laundering (AML) enforcement agencies and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to trace the funds.
  4. Gambling: Purchasing gambling chips at a casino or placing bets on sports events offers a way to launder money, although it may entail some financial losses due to the inherent risk.
  5. Currency smuggling: Money launderers may move illegal currency across borders to countries where it can be used legitimately.
  6. Foreign currency exchanges: Purchasing foreign currency with illegal funds through exchanges further obscures the source of the money.

Layering Stage

  1. Moving money: Money launderers electronically transfer funds from one country to another, exploiting legal loopholes in both jurisdictions.
  2. Investing in stocks: Criminals may invest the money in stocks, providing them with a long-term investment that helps legitimize their wealth.
  3. Investing in real estate: Investing in property not only provides a tangible asset but can also be challenging for authorities to track, especially when transactions lack proper documentation.
  4. Investing in shell companies: Criminals funnel illegal money into shell companies that maintain a functional facade, further masking the source of funds.

Integration Stage

  1. Fake employees: Criminals may establish fictitious offices with a list of non-existent employees, channeling payments as salaries to these ghost employees, effectively redirecting the money to themselves.
  2. Investments: By purchasing high-value items like real estate, valuable art pieces, luxury vehicles, and jewelry, criminals can later sell these assets for legitimate income.
  3. Loans: Companies may offer loans to executives or shareholders, effectively allowing the money to remain within the criminal’s control.
  4. Dividends: Payments can be issued to shareholders in companies that are under the control of the money laundering operation, further masking the source of funds.

The Significance of Money Laundering as a Global Issue

Money laundering is a grave concern for law enforcement agencies worldwide. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was established specifically to combat this criminal practice. The conversion of illegal funds into legitimate assets grants criminals the means to utilize the money for lawful purposes, such as opening a garment store or running a laundry business, from which the term “money laundering” originated. Clean money acquired through the three money laundering stages is nearly indistinguishable from legitimate funds, enabling criminals to engage in illicit activities covertly.

Modern technological advancements and the globalization of the financial services industry, coupled with varying levels of robustness in each country’s anti-money laundering policies, pose significant challenges to agencies enforcing AML laws. To combat these challenges, businesses must take proactive measures to prevent money laundering.

Preventing Money Laundering: The Role of Businesses in 2023

To mitigate the risk of money laundering, most institutions where laundered money is placed implement Customer Due Diligence (CDD). This involves collecting customer information, including names, birthdates, and government-issued IDs, such as passports or driver’s licenses. This process is often referred to as “Know Your Customer” (KYC). In high-risk regions, an additional check known as Extended Due Diligence (EDD) may be conducted, focusing on verifying the source of funds. If the source of the funds is suspicious or illegal, the customer is flagged, preventing them from using the institution for their money laundering activities.

Additionally, businesses can employ the following measures to prevent money laundering:

  1. Training and Awareness: Educate employees about the importance of identifying and reporting suspicious activities.
  2. Robust Reporting Mechanisms: Establish clear procedures for reporting suspicious transactions and activities to the appropriate authorities.
  3. Advanced Technology: Invest in cutting-edge AML software to detect unusual financial patterns and transactions.
  4. Regular Audits: Conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with AML and KYC regulations.
  5. Collaboration: Work closely with government agencies and law enforcement to share information and intelligence regarding potential money laundering activities.
  6. Risk Assessment: Continuously assess and update risk profiles to stay ahead of evolving money laundering tactics.

The Future of Money Laundering Prevention

The fight against money laundering is an ongoing battle, and it’s essential for businesses to adapt to new challenges and technologies. As criminals become increasingly sophisticated, authorities must respond with more advanced techniques to detect and prevent money laundering.

In the coming years, we can expect to see the following developments in the field of money laundering prevention:

  1. Blockchain Technology: The use of blockchain for financial transactions can provide transparency and traceability, making it more challenging for money launderers to hide their tracks.
  2. Artificial Intelligence: AI can be used to analyze vast amounts of data, identifying patterns and anomalies that may signify money laundering activities.
  3. International Cooperation: Governments and financial institutions will likely intensify their efforts to collaborate on a global scale to combat money laundering.
  4. Regulatory Changes: We can expect to see more stringent AML regulations and enforcement actions to deter money launderers.
  5. Cybersecurity Measures: As digital transactions become more common, robust cybersecurity measures will be crucial to prevent money laundering in the online space.


Money laundering remains a persistent and challenging issue that poses a threat to the global financial system. Understanding its intricacies, stages, and techniques is paramount in the fight against this criminal practice. Businesses and financial institutions play a vital role in ensuring that illicit funds do not infiltrate the legitimate financial system.

By remaining vigilant and implementing stringent KYC and AML protocols, we can collectively work to thwart the efforts of money launderers and protect the integrity of our financial systems. As technology and regulations evolve, so must our efforts to prevent and combat money laundering, ensuring that the financial world remains a safe and transparent space for all.

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