Money laundering is one of the more interesting types of fraud and has been the centre of many TV shows over the past few years. But which TV shows make the cut?
The last 10 years have quickly become the age of the exciting money laundering movies and TV shows. Money laundering makes for good TV because it really is another, unimaginable world for most people.
The stories usually surround main characters getting involved in dealing drugs, for one reason or another. Then, these criminals, whom we learn to love, or love to hate, must launder the money they’ve made from these sensational crimes. In most of these TV series, the criminals get so far in the drug world that they don’t even need expert fraud defence!
Whether it’s realistic or not, it makes for great television. In this post, we’re going to briefly explain what money laundering is, and give you some examples of the most common types so you know what to expect from these shows. Then, it’s onto the juicy stuff, as we’ll be sharing our favourite money laundering TV shows with you too.
What is Money Laundering and Fraud?
Before we get into the TV shows, it’s a good idea to explain what money laundering actually is so we know what to expect.
The International Federation of Accountants describe money laundering as:
“The funnelling of cash or other funds generated from illegal activities through legitimate financial institutions and businesses to conceal the source of the funds.”
Basically, washing dirty money through a clean business to hide it away from any law enforcement or government body that might question where it came from.
Fraud is a more general term for deliberately misrepresenting something as something it’s not, and money laundering is just one type of it. Because there’s a lot of money to be made, especially in this type of fraud, the number of money laundering cases are rising. Governments worldwide keep introducing new legislation to tackle it, but criminals obviously see the risk as minimal compared to the payoff, and continue to commit the crime.
What Are Some Examples of Money Laundering?
Just describing what money laundering is, isn’t enough to garner a full picture of the practice, so we’re going to share some quick examples of the most common types. Here are some examples of money laundering techniques criminals can use to clean their money:
Smurfing or Structuring
This kind of money laundering involves breaking the money into small chunks and depositing it into banks one small payment at a time. This allows the criminal to side-step banks from flagging suspicious payments. Nowadays, banks impose daily deposit limits and flag continuous small payments to curb smurfing.
Real Estate Laundering
When the criminal has a lot of cash to launder, they often buy property and sell it on quickly to hide where the money came from. Sometimes this is done at a profit, but the main purpose is to clean the money.
This is a very common type of money laundering as the criminal can make the money seem legitimate without too much scrutiny from law enforcement. The proceeds of crime are used to buy chips at a casino which are then used to gain money through gambling.
Smuggling Money Across Borders
There are various stages of money laundering, the first of which is placement. This type of laundering makes the placement stage very risky as there is a high chance the criminal might be caught at the border.
However, if the money makes it over the border, the criminal uses smurfing to put it into a foreign bank account and clean the money the old-fashioned way.
This type of money laundering involves adjusting invoices or documents to misrepresent the price, quantity or quality of imports/exports. The extra money looks legitimate to banks because it’s based on the amount or quality of a product that they don’t know is either fewer in number or inferior than the business has claimed.
What Are the Best Money Laundering and Fraud TV Shows?
We now have a good idea of what money laundering is and the different techniques criminals use to launder it. With that new knowledge in mind, it’s time to turn our attention to the great narratives built around these practices by sharing the best TV shows based on money laundering.
1. Breaking Bad
If you haven’t seen this show, where have you been? This is probably the most popular show of the last decade or so and has inspired multiple spin-offs since it ended in 2013.
Walter White, a chemistry teacher at a local school, finds out that he has cancer and decides to get into the meth-making business to pay his medical bills. He partners with one of his students, Jesse, and together they start a meth empire.
In order to spend his money legally, Walter seeks the help of a shady lawyer called Saul Goodman who advises him on how to launder his money.
After discovering that Walter’s son has a site asking for donations for his father’s cancer treatment, Saul uses his tech connections to arrange Walter’s money to be donated from computers all over the world and essentially wash the money clean.
This is a good example of smurfing, splitting the money into chunks so it can be donated in small sums, and of integration which is how the laundered money makes its way back to the owner.
Other examples of laundering in the show include:
- Saul trying to convince Jesse to buy a nail salon and use a mixture of smurfing and trade-based laundering to make up fake nail procedures that never happened.
- Saul convincing Walter to claim his money came from gambling winnings so they can use the money to buy a car wash and smurf/trade launder money.
- Walter giving 9 million dollars to some billionaire friends who can blend the money in with their own, and donate the money back to Walter as a charitable contribution to victims of drug crime.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, watch it, enjoy it, and look out for the various money laundering techniques littered throughout its 5 seasons.
Ozark is a more recent show than Breaking Bad, first airing on Netflix in 2017 and expecting a fourth and final season sometime in the near future. It’s also one of many modern shows based around Mexican drug cartels.
Marty Byrde, a Chicago financial planner, has been laundering money for Mexico’s second biggest cartel for several years. When the cartel finds out that Marty’s business partner has been skimming money from the profits and one of his friends is talking to the feds, his life takes a strange turn.
The cartel force Marty and his family to relocate to the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri where he has to launder $8 million for them in a rural, economically depressed part of the country. To launder the money Marty has to come up with unique methods and as a viewer you get a real insight into how money laundering works.
Narcos is another modern Netflix TV show based on money laundering within Mexican drug cartels. The show first aired in 2015 but ended in 2017 after only 3 seasons.
This drama follows Pablo Escobar’s rise and fall as a famous drug lord in 1980s Colombia. The story is viewed through the lens of two American DEA agents who are tasked with bringing Escobar to justice.
Narcos shares an insight into the dark world of drug trafficking and corruption at every level of public office. The show is based on a true story but has come under fire from critics, including Escobar’s own son, for being historically inaccurate.
However, one true element was how Escobar laundered his money. In order to clean the huge amounts of money he’d accumulated, Escobar used Robert Mazur who led a double life as an undercover agent and a money launderer for the cartel.
Mazur spent years constructing a sophisticated front with real businesses to launder money for the cartel. He would find a buyer for their dirty dollars and swap it for Colombian pesos through a series of confusing transactions. Essentially, when Importers located in countries with oppressive taxes and tariffs wanted to exchange their currency for dollars, they came to Mazur who would swap the cartel’s dirty money for their clean money.
4. Good Girls
If you’re not a fan of serious money laundering programs, or you’re just not into crystal meth, drug trafficking and Mexican cartels, you could always turn your attention to Good Girls.
This show is another Netflix original that first aired in 2018 and will be going into its third season this year. It follows three suburban mothers who are having a difficult time making ends meet:
- One has a husband who took out multiple mortgages on their house to try and save his failing business.
- Another has a daughter with a medical condition that requires expensive medication.
- And the third wants to show her ex-boyfriend and father of her child that she isn’t a loser.
In order to get the money, they rob the local supermarket one of the mothers works at and spend the money on the things they needed it for.
Little do they know that the money they stole was being laundered through the supermarket by some big-time gangsters. So, they agree to launder money for the gang by buying items at retail chains and returning the items to other stores in the chain to get the clean money back.
The operation then expands, and the women recruit other mothers in the town to help them by claiming they run a market research company. The show is good fun and definitely hits a lighter note than the other shows we’ve mentioned in this list.
Money Laundering Shows Are Here to Stay
Today, we’ve managed to cover what money laundering is, and share some of the interesting techniques criminals use to launder money. We’ve also given you a list of shows you can watch that include some of these techniques.
With some of these shows still ongoing, and the others having spin-offs that also deal with money laundering, you won’t have to look far for more shows once you’ve given this list a go. Money laundering shows are here to stay for now.
Thank you for reading, and we hope these TV shows will see you through the winter months.