Fraud vs. Money Laundering: What’s the difference?

Jul 5, 2024 | Fraud | 0 comments

Financial crimes such as fraud and money laundering often tend to be interconnected due to the nature of both crimes. Where fraud affects people, governments, or businesses, there are usually criminal groups that need to disguise that money as legitimate for use. However, there are differences between the two at various levels. 

This post will explore fraud vs. money laundering differences, as well as their regulatory, human and social, economic-related consequences, and recent news about a real-life case that includes both financial crimes.

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What is Fraud?

Fraud is intentionally deceiving someone to gain something valuable or cause them loss. It’s a crime involving lying or hiding important facts to trick another person or business, leading to financial or property losses. Some types of fraud include:

  • Insurance fraud: Manipulating life insurance claims to receive unentitled benefits.  
  • Bank Fraud: Fraudsters pretend to be bank officials to access accounts and steal money, as seen in cases involving Bank of America, or by illegally using checks to obtain illicit funds.
  • Chargeback Fraud: When a consumer fraudulently claims a chargeback, retains products, and causes business losses.
Side view of banknotes hanging on a clothesline

What is Money Laundering?

Money laundering is the process of hiding the origins of illegally obtained money to make it appear legal. Criminals do this to use their financial funds without detection of the criminal activities that generated them. Some scenarios related to money laundering include: 

  • Drug trafficking: Laundered money finances the production and distribution of illegal drugs.
  • Terrorism: Terrorist groups use laundered funds to finance their operations.
  • Arms dealing: Illicit arms trades are often financed through laundered money.

Differences between Fraud and Money Laundering

Fraud and money laundering, though related, have distinct motivations, regulations, and enforcement methods. Here are the key differences in incentives, regulatory constraints, and enforcement approaches.

1. Operational Differences

Fraud and money laundering operate differently:

  • Fraud is using deceit to make money at someone else’s loss. It can include tactics like lying, withholding information, or faking documents. 
  • Money laundering, however, focuses on covering up  illegally obtained money to make it appear legitimate, allowing criminals to use “clean” money without being caught. 

2. Tactical Differences

  • Fraud tactics often involve directly tricking victims, such as through scams or false information. Common examples include gift card fraud, identity theft, and online scams. These tactics are designed to take advantage of victims quickly. 
  • Money laundering, in contrast, uses complex processes like transferring funds through multiple accounts, using fictitious companies, or fake transactions. The goal is to make illegal money difficult to trace back to its criminal origin.

3. Magnitude of Damage

  • Fraud typically results in immediate and personal financial harm to victims, like losing money from a bank account or being tricked into a scam. This can cause severe emotional and financial stress.
  • Money laundering has broader consequences for society. It supports serious criminal activities like drug trafficking and terrorism, sabotaging financial systems and leading to long-term risks to national and global economies.

4. Regulatory and Legal Differences

  • Fraud is generally mitigated through quick detection and direct intervention. Victims can report fraud to local law enforcement agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, or specific organizations like the Internet Crime Complaint Center for online fraud. Authorities can then act quickly to compensate for losses and pursue justice.

5. Enforcement Differences

  • Fraud detection is often more straightforward, with quick feedback and resolution. This allows for continuous improvement in fraud prevention methods. 
  • Money laundering detection is more complex, with less immediate feedback. AML teams frequently deal with long-term investigations and reporting, making it harder to adapt and improve processes swiftly.

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Young entrepreneur working from his office and counting cash

Impact and Consequences of Fraud and Money Laundering 

Fraud and money laundering have far-reaching effects on people, communities, and entire economies. Let’s explore the human, economic, and societal impacts of these financial crimes and understand why they are critical problems to focus on

Human and Social Impact

Fraud and money laundering have severe effects on people, families, and communities. Victims of fraud typically suffer financial losses that can lead to long-term mental and physical trauma. 

Vulnerable groups, such as the older adults and the sick, are particularly affected, increasing their disadvantage and vulnerability. Money laundering supports criminal activities that harm communities, including drug trafficking and terrorism, increasing social instability and crime rates.

Government and Public Services Impact

Fraud hurts the efficiency of government services by redirecting resources away from those in need. This poor handling can result in poor or dangerous services and program failures. 

Money laundering also hurts government institutions by promoting corruption and reducing tax revenues, which limits the government’s ability to fund public services and infrastructure projects.

Economic and Market Impact

Fraud interferes with markets by giving fraudulent businesses an unjust advantage, driving out legitimate companies. This can affect business services and increase the financial burden on charities and community services. 

Money laundering destabilizes financial systems by bringing in illicit funds, leading to economic imbalances and crises. It also contributes to economic inequality, as the profits often benefit a select few, widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

Reputational Impact

Both fraud and money laundering can severely damage the reputation of the institutions involved. Poor handling of fraud reduces trust in government and industries, leading to a loss of confidence and damaging international reputations.

Countries perceived as soft towards money laundering may face reputational damage, preventing foreign investment and harming international trade relationships.

Regulatory and Enforcement Impact

Handling fraud requires significant resources for detection, investigation, and response. These costs extend beyond direct financial losses and include potential restitution and program redesigns. 

Anti-Money Laundering (AML) efforts involve strict regulations and substantial compliance costs, impacting the financial services industry. The lack of immediate feedback in AML enforcement makes continuous improvement more challenging, as teams often focus on detecting well-known patterns instead of developing innovative strategies.

The Case of Omoruyi Brothers about Fraud vs. Money Laundering

Osakpamwan Henry Omoruyi and Osaretin Godspower Omoruyi, two brothers previously residing in Canton, were sentenced for their role in an international money laundering and bank fraud scheme. 

Osakpamwan received a 78-month prison sentence, while Osaretin received 72 months. This sentencing followed an eight-day trial where both were found guilty of bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder money.

You might be interested in reading about how many years in jail you can get for fraud in 2024.

How did They Commit the Crimes?

The scheme involved opening multiple bank accounts using fake names and fraudulent international passports. These accounts were used to receive profits from various scams organized by their co-conspirators. The primary scams included pandemic unemployment assistance fraud and online romance scams

In total, the implicated bank accounts received over $2 million in fraudulent funds, most of which were transferred to overseas accounts controlled by the accused and their co-conspirators.

What do the Authorities Say?

Authorities emphasized that this case shows how scammers take advantage of the public health crisis to steal money from vulnerable people seeking financial help. The defendants exploited the pandemic’s chaos to carry out their fraudulent activities, targeting those in desperate need of assistance.

Man in handcuffs holding a stack of cash

Protect Yourself from Fraud and Money Laundering

Considering that financial fraud is the most prevalent Anti-Money Laundering (AML) event globally at 22.2%, closely followed by money laundering at 17.6%, according to SmartSearch, staying vigilant is key to avoiding becoming a victim of fraud. Always monitor your financial transactions, use secure payment methods, and check the legitimacy of sources of money.

Meanwhile, stay informed about all the news and new fraud techniques on the Crypto Scam Defense Network. We provide valuable resources and support to help people recognize and report scams, ensuring a safer financial environment.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Fraud vs. Money Laundering

What Are the Primary Differences Between Fraud and Money Laundering?

Fraud and money laundering differ in methods and impacts. While fraud is the act of deceit, such as lying or faking documents, in order to financially harm victims, money laundering fraudulently presents illegal funds as legitimate, often by transferring money through multiple accounts. 

What Techniques Are Commonly Used for Money Laundering?

Money laundering uses a variety of techniques to cover up the origins of illicit funds. Common methods include:

  • Self-laundering: This method involves criminals directly handling their own illicit profits. For example, a drug cartel might funnel its earnings through a series of small, apparently legitimate cash deposits in different bank accounts, gradually putting these funds into a single account that seems to originate from a legitimate source.
  • Professional laundering: Financial experts or institutions provide specialized services to cover up the origins of criminal proceeds. An example includes using a network of offshore accounts and shell companies to move and hide funds.
  • Other methods: There are also more specific schemes that include the use of numerous small cash payments, online sales with cryptocurrencies and complex cross-border transactions. These methods make use of advanced financial technologies, account networks, and legal structures. 

What Are the Impact and Consequences of Fraud and Money Laundering?

Fraud and money laundering have far-reaching effects on individuals, communities, and entire economies. Some of their impacts include:

  • Human and Social Impact: Fraud and money laundering increase the vulnerability of communities and support harmful criminal activities, such as higher crime rates.
  • Government and Public Services Impact: These crimes take away resources, promote corruption, and reduce public service efficiency.
  • Economic and Market Impact: Fraud unfairly advantages fraudulent businesses, while money laundering causes economic instability and inequality.
  • Reputational Impact: Damages institutional trust and reduces foreign investment, affecting international relationships.
  • Regulatory and Enforcement Impact: Enforcement demands significant resources and compliance costs, challenging continuous improvement.

How Can Technology Help in Detecting Fraud and Money Laundering?

Technology plays a crucial role in detecting fraud and money laundering by using various advanced tools and methods:

  • Data Analysis Tools: These tools help identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate fraudulent activities, such as: ACL Analytics, IBM Watson and Palantir
  • Digital Forensics: This involves collecting and preserving electronic evidence crucial for investigations, such as: network monitoring, email examination and mobile device investigation. 
  • Blockchain Technology: Blockchain provides a transparent and immutable record of transactions, aiding in tracing and preventing fraudulent activities, this is done through: smart contracts and transaction tracking. 
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): AI and ML can analyze large data sets to detect complex fraud schemes and predict potential risks, some of the things that can be achieved with these tools are: predictive analytics, fraud detection systems and automated monitoring.

How Can I Protect Myself from Fraud and Money Laundering?

To protect yourself from fraud and money laundering, you can take several practical steps, such as:

  • Monitor Financial Activities: Regularly review your bank statements and transactions for any unusual activity.
  • Use Secure Methods: Use secure payment methods and avoid cash transactions when possible.
  • Stay Informed: Educate yourself about common fraud schemes and money laundering tactics.
  • Report Suspicious Activities: If you encounter any unusual transactions or requests, report them to the relevant authorities immediately.

Verify Sources: Ensure the legitimacy of financial institutions and people you deal with by checking their credentials and reviews.