Money laundering is the practice of engaging in financial transactions in order to conceal the identity, source, and/or destination of money, and is a main operation of the underground economy.

In the past, the term “money laundering” was applied only to financial transactions related to organized crime. Today its definition is often expanded by government regulators (such as the United States Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) to encompass any financial transaction which generates an asset or a value as the result of an illegal act, which may involve actions such as tax evasion or false accounting. As a result, the illegal activity of money laundering is now recognized as potentially practiced by individuals, small and large businesses, corrupt officials, members of organized crime (such as drug dealers or the Mafia) or of cults, and even corrupt states, through a complex network of shell companies and trusts based in offshore tax havens.

The increasing complexity of financial crime, the increasing recognized value of so-called “financial intelligence” (FININT) in combating transnational crime and terrorism, and the speculated impact of capital extracted from the legitimate economy has led to an increased prominence of money laundering in political, economic, and legal debate.

Anti-money laundering (AML) is a term mainly used in the financial and legal industries to describe the legal controls that require financial institutions and other regulated entities to prevent or report money laundering activities. Anti-money laundering guidelines came into prominence globally after the September 11, 2001 attacks and the subsequent enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Today, all financial institutions globally are required to monitor, investigate and report transactions of a suspicious nature to the financial intelligence unit of the central bank in the respective country. For example, a bank must perform due diligence by having proof of a customer’s identity and that the use, source and destination of funds do not involve money laundering. United States federal law related to money laundering is implemented under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 as amended by anti-money laundering acts up to the present. Many people have confused Anti-Money Laundering (AML) with Anti-Terrorist Financing (ATF). Under the Bank Secrecy Act of USA, Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing are classified into two different categories when financial institutions file Suspicious Activities Reports (SAR) to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) which is a US government agency. To effectively implement AML and ATF measures, The US government encourages financial institutions to work together for AML and ATF purposes in accordance with Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act. However, since financial institutions are required by law to protect the privacy of their clients, section 314(b) cooperation has not been generally adopted by financial institutions. To overcome this obstacle, the United Crimes Elimination Network (UCEN) has been established by AML and ATF professionals to achieve this global cooperation goal in compliance with the privacy laws of most countries.