What is Placement in Money Laundering? And How Does It Work?

Money laundering begins with a step called "placement," where criminals sneak their illegal money into the regular banking world. In this article, we will answer the question of 'what is placement in money laundering.' In this read, we will introduce the essential basics regarding how placement works, why it's a big challenge to catch, what methods and techniques criminals use, and finally, how to detect and prevent placement in money laundering.

What is Placement in Money Laundering?

Placement is the first step in money laundering. It involves introducing illegal gains into the financial system. This happens through methods like depositing cash, purchasing financial instruments, or acquiring high-value assets.

Individuals with illegal gains use money laundering to disguise the source of proceeds. Placement alone cannot achieve the ultimate objective, which is 'cleansing' the 'dirty money,' making it appear less suspicious to banks and regulatory authorities. Placement in money laundering must be accompanied by the other two stages of money laundering: layering and integration.

In the placement stage, criminals strategically insert funds into the legitimate financial system to obscure their origin. Success in placement initiates the conversion of illegal funds into seemingly legitimate assets, setting the foundation for subsequent layers of concealment and integration.

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Common Methods During Placement in Money Laundering

During the placement in money laundering, criminals use various techniques and methods to introduce illicit funds into the legitimate financial system. These methods include:

  1. Smuggling of Cash: Illegitimate cash or liquid instruments are transported across borders for deposit in another country's financial system. An example is criminals smuggling cash obtained from illegal activities to deposit it in a jurisdiction with lighter AML regulations.
  1. Blending with Legitimate Proceeds: Unlawful funds are mixed with legitimate proceeds by introducing illicit money into cash-intensive businesses like groceries. Criminals blend the ill-gotten gains with the legitimate income of these businesses to obscure the source.
  1. Debt Repayment: Illegal proceeds are used to repay debts, providing a seemingly legitimate source for the funds. For instance, criminals may repay debts using money obtained from criminal activities, making it appear as a lawful transaction.
  1. Stored Value Cards: Purchasing stored value cards with illicit money allows for discreet use and transfer of funds. Criminals may acquire these cards to move money without direct detection, contributing to the placement in money laundering.
  1. Smurfing: Depositing small amounts into multiple bank accounts to evade reporting thresholds is a prevalent money laundering technique. For example, criminals may divide large sums into smaller transactions to minimize suspicion and detection.
  1. Foreign Currency Purchase: Buying foreign currency using illegal funds diversifies the form of assets. Criminals may use this method to introduce illicit funds into the financial system in a different currency.
  1. Cash Purchase of Securities or Insurance: Acquiring financial instruments or insurance in cash contributes to the laundering process. Illicit funds are used for these purchases, making them appear as legitimate financial transactions.
  1. Invoice Fraud: Manipulating invoices through over-invoicing or under-invoicing obscures the true value of transactions. Criminals may employ this method to introduce illicit funds into the financial system by manipulating invoice amounts.

Illustrative Example of Placement in Money Laundering

A drug dealer employs various methods to place his vast sums of illicit money. One notable method is through the acquisition of numerous properties and businesses, effectively blending his illegal gains with legitimate assets. Here's a glimpse into how this drug dealer places his money:

  1. Real Estate Investments: He invests heavily in real estate, acquiring numerous properties across different countries. These included luxurious mansions, apartments, and even entire compounds. By purchasing high-value real estate, he could place his illicit funds into tangible assets while maintaining a facade of legitimate wealth.
  1. Front Companies: He established front companies across various industries. These businesses serve as a means to legitimize his earnings. Through these seemingly legitimate enterprises, he could channel illicit funds without arousing immediate suspicion.
  1. Cash-Intensive Businesses: This drug dealer also invests in cash-intensive businesses like restaurants, hotels, and casinos. These establishments allow him to blend his illegal proceeds with the regular cash flow of these businesses, making it challenging to trace the source of funds.
  1. Bank Accounts Under Alias: He utilizes a network of bank accounts, often under aliases or false names, to deposit and move his money. By spreading his funds across various accounts, he minimizes the risk of detection and scrutiny from authorities.
  1. Currency Smuggling: He also engages in currency smuggling, moving large sums of cash across borders to countries with less stringent financial regulations. 
  1. Investments in Infrastructure: He invests in public infrastructure projects, including building housing for the poor. These projects not only garner him public support but also provide another avenue for placing his illicit funds into ostensibly legitimate initiatives.
  1. Money Laundering Networks: He has an extensive network of money launderers who specialize in disguising the origin of funds. These professionals facilitate the placement of his money through intricate financial transactions and schemes.

Challenges in Detecting Placement in Money Laundering 

Even with technological progress and regulations, identifying and stopping money laundering placement remains a challenge, and here is why:

1. Limited Transparency

  • Detecting placement in money laundering faces challenges due to limited transparency in financial transactions.
  • Concealed transactions make it difficult for authorities to ascertain what occurs during the placement stage of money laundering.

2. Sophisticated Techniques

  • Money launderers employ sophisticated methods, complicating the identification of money laundering placement.
  • Evolving techniques, such as structuring and trade-based laundering, pose challenges for AML placement detection.

3. Fragmented Financial Ecosystem

  • The fragmented nature of the financial ecosystem contributes to the difficulty of preventing money laundering.
  • Multiple entry points and diverse financial institutions complicate the task of implementing effective AML measures.

4. Global Nature of Transactions

  • Global transactions make it challenging to combat placement in anti-money laundering efforts.
  • Criminals exploit cross-border movements, necessitating international collaboration to prevent examples of placement in money laundering.

5. Resource Constraints

  • Limited resources impede the establishment of strong AML placement measures.
  • Financial institutions often face constraints in implementing effective detection systems, hindering prevention efforts.

6. Innovative Criminal Tactics

  • Criminals continuously develop new tactics, making it a dynamic challenge to prevent money laundering placement.
  • Authorities must stay ahead of evolving methods to effectively counter the first stage of money laundering.

7. Cryptocurrency Challenges

8. Human Factor

  • The human factor, including lack of awareness and training, can lead to an oversight in detecting placement in AML procedures.
  • Training personnel is crucial for enhancing the effectiveness of prevention measures, in addition to utilizing the power of automation and technology.

Placement in Money Laundering: Detection and Prevention

To effectively detect and prevent placement in money laundering, financial institutions should adopt a comprehensive approach:

  1. Understand Placement Methods: Familiarize yourself with common placement techniques, like cash deposits and asset purchases, to enhance detection capabilities.
  1. Utilize Technology: Utilize advanced analytics and monitoring tools, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to analyze vast amounts of data and identify suspicious transactions indicative of money laundering placement.
  1. Maintain Strong Compliance Procedures: Establish strong compliance measures, regularly update them, and ensure staff is well-trained to recognize signs of money laundering placement. Incorporate thorough KYC processes to verify customer identities and monitor transactions effectively.
  1. International Collaboration: Engage in collaborative efforts with international counterparts, sharing information and best practices to combat the global nature of money laundering. Establish networks for sharing information with other financial institutions and law enforcement agencies to enhance collective efforts.
  1. Implement Risk-Based Approach: Adopt a risk-based approach to focus resources on high-risk areas, increasing the effectiveness of detection and prevention efforts. Conduct regular audits and risk assessments, incorporating Customer Due Diligence and Enhanced Due Diligence, to evaluate the effectiveness of existing anti-money laundering measures and identify areas for improvement.
  1. Leverage Regulatory Resources: Utilize resources provided by regulatory bodies and organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for guidance on effective anti-money laundering strategies. Collaborate closely with regulatory bodies, participating in industry forums, and staying informed about updates in anti-money laundering regulations.


In conclusion, money laundering is a serious crime that conceals illegally obtained money from activities like drug trafficking or fraud. The process has three stages: placement, layering, and integration, making it hard to tell illegal money apart from legal money. To tackle this, financial institutions need to utilize Anti-Money Laundering (AML) technology that spots unusual transactions, for instance, while also screening customers effectively. 


Q1. What happens in the first stage of money laundering?

The placement stage involves introducing illegal funds into the legitimate financial system, often through methods like cash deposits or purchasing assets.

Q2. Which stage is the riskiest for criminals in money laundering?

The placement stage is considered the most vulnerable for criminals, as it directly involves handling cash or assets from illegal activities, making detection more likely.

Q3. What rules are there to stop placement in money laundering?

Regulatory measures include global anti-money laundering frameworks, stringent compliance procedures, and collaboration among financial institutions and international entities to detect and prevent illicit fund placement.

Q4. Are there specific industries targeted for money laundering placement?

Yes, industries like Casinos, Art and Antique Dealers, Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, and Nightclubs are prone to such activities.

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