Money Laundering and Your Bank Accounts – Part IV – Automated Clearing House (ACH)

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This is the fourth part in our series revealing exactly what banks are looking for when they combat money laundering.

Automated Clearing House Transactions – Policing Money Laundering

“Automated Clearing House” or ACH refers to all clearing houses, not only to the U.S. one with that name. GIRO, NETS, ACH, CHAPS, EFT, BACS, PEACH, SDD and others are all automated clearing houses. Launderers attempt to route transactions through them to bypass some anti-money laundering safeguards.

FinTech

The rapid rise of financial technology (Fintech) third party quasi-banks has created new openings for money laundering. PayPal was one of the earliest Internet Fintech companies but many have followed in its wake. Fintech quasi-banks carve up the banking product into pieces. Each fintech company provides one or two services, adding to the burden of regulators. Ayden, LendingClub, Addepar, Commonbond, Kabbage, Transferwise, etc. are a few of the many third party fintechs. Fintechs are generally on the up-and-up but it is reasonable to assume that some are designed as money laundries and are even capitalized by dirty money.

Non-customers launder money by using large-value, ACH transactions through third-party service providers (TPSP) that don’t perform effective due diligence.

Regulators don’t control TPSPs as rigorously as banks. So money launderers can move money into the banking system without the usual controls. ACH systems must flag such transactions. Regulators are looking at the TPSP environment now. Even so, they only look at deposits, checks payment, and money lending.

TPSPs violate ACH network rules, or generate illegal transactions, or process manipulated or fraudulent transactions on behalf of their customers in order to facilitate money laundering.

Regulators should close down TPSPs after catching them breaking the law, but often they don’t. Usually, regulators don’t consider the transgressions to be bad enough to put them out of business and may impose lesser penalties. Bank regulators will look for regular patterns of abuse by TPSPs. When they find an abusive TPSP, they will punish banks that have done business with it. But that takes time. Meanwhile, money launderers and their crooked clients continue to operate.

Layers of TPSPs that appear to be unnecessary are involved in transactions in order to launder money.

Always and everywhere, officials use complexity to facilitate fraud or theft. Complex tax codes such as that of the U.S. are examples of regulations designed with malicious intent. Complex financial deals are often designed to defraud. Regulators find such fraud hard to detect if they were designed with care. Launderers use TPSP layers to facilitate much of the money laundering outside the main banking system.

Clients initiate an unusually high level of transactions over the Internet or by telephone.

This is simply smurfing by another means and is as easy to track as any other kind of smurfing. Banks will usually detect this in the twenty-first century, and if they don’t, their regulators will.

NACHA information requests indicate potential concerns with the bank’s usage of the ACH system… i.e. they may suspect money laundering.

NACHA doesn’t communicate directly with end users of the US ACH. That is important for you to know because fake NACHA emails are a goldmine for phishing attacks. However, NACHA does have a set of rules and the ability to fine members who do not obey them. Furthermore, banks can alert NACHA of suspicious transactions they see. Third party software such as that provided by NICE•Actimize can automatically detect the misuse of ACH transactions. Those are reported to NACHA and bank regulators.

Can Money Launderers penetrate the system?

Yes. Many people try to game the system and succeed. It is clear that in many governments themselves are anxious to leave some channels available to move dirty money with little friction. Power and money laundering go hand-in-hand.

How do money launderers work in the 21st century?

In one scheme, criminals route debt obligations across multiple borders to clean dirty money. For example, X takes out a loan for a million dollars from a peer-to-peer fintech lender in the U.S. He deposits the loan in his U.S. account. He then funds the repayment of the loan from a Bank of Cyprus account using a UK peer-to-peer fintech fund offset service. Money crossed no borders under this scheme. On the other hand, the launderer moved a million dollars from his Russian-controlled Cyprus account into the U.S. When he repays in amounts of around $5,400 per month they will be thought to be normal payments for a thirty-year loan. Only the structure of the transaction would give a clue as to what was going on and given the separation in location and time, no alarms will sound.

We will discuss other schemes later in this series.

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