Monday, June 23, 2014

Laundering money for supervillains

Today we're going to talk about money laundering. This shouldn't normally be necessary if you followed my earlier advice - steal what you actually want, rather than the money you need to pay for it - but sometimes this simply isn't possible. For example, maybe people you like are in need of money, and you want to give it to them. Robin Hood and the Blues Brothers are great villainous role models for this scenario.

Before we talk about the how, let's talk about what it is, and why you care.

The basics

Money laundering is the exchange of "tainted" money for "clean" money, thus "laundering". Tainted can mean several things, from literal (the dye packs the bank put in the bag exploded, and now your Benjamins are bright purple) to figurative (the bank gave you bills with sequential serial numbers, and the cops are looking for anyone spending bills with numbers in that range). Sometimes, just the quantity is enough - if you steal $73,000 and then spend exactly that much somewhere, the cops will naturally twig to you. At no time is the actual printed currency you stole going to be the same actual printed currency you want to eventually spend.

Why do you want to launder money? If you buy something with cash that's traced back to your crime, the people you bought it from are going to be questioned, and they can probably tell the fuzz something useful - I mean, you didn't really stroll into the dealership wearing your costume and mask, did you? If you hand the money off to someone else, they become an accessory. If the recipient knows the money was stolen, they're committing an actual crime. In the United States, the threshold is five grand, and I don't know anyone who's stolen less than twice that. So you launder money to avoid legal scrutiny when it is spent.

Every technique for how to launder money involve dealing with people who already have as much money as you want to launder, and who are willing to dispose of your filthy lucre for you, so this is not a solo activity. The main question is how far you'll have to go, and how closely you'll have to interact with people.

No matter who you deal with, the general rule is: don't hand over money until you see money. If you have enough of a reputation that you know you won't get robbed, you don't need this guide. Until you get to that point, never hand over cash to someone who will come back "in a few hours" with your money.

Organized crime

There are actual criminal organizations who specialize in this sort of work, so you should always try to work with them. They'll usually take a percentage for their services, but a bank robbery takes maybe 10 hours to plan and execute, and can net 10 grand at minimum, so you're working for $1000 an hour and frankly you can afford their fee. If your villainous career doesn't put you in touch with at least a few such people, you're doing it wrong. That said, not all these guys play fair, and not all of them are competent. Sometimes you'll need to make other arrangements.

If a gangster hasn't approached you yet, be patient, and don't approach them. Crime rings without supers of their own will always make a move on you. You're the big prize, the unstoppable weapon that will let them take out their rivals, and they'll do everything they can to make you feel obligated. For purposes of laundering your ill-gotten gains, they'll frequently make offers like "services for services rendered". This basically means "we'll waive the percentage if you act as our muscle". Say no - unless you really want to work for the Mob or the Triads or whoever - and insist on a percentage. You can dick around on the exact rate if you want, but don't be an asshole. You've already told them no on their first and biggest ask, so throw them a bone on the consolation prize.

No serious outfit will ask for a flat fee, but some will ask for a minimum payment. If they ask for this a lot, it means you're not bringing enough money in to be worth their time. Either step up your game, engage them less frequently for their services, or move to someone smaller.

Gambling

Yeah yeah, I'm sure a lot of you are saying "Mr. Big, you said organized crime already!" I suggest you watch "Casino" sometime - they aren't the same, and sometimes they're actively in competition. The casinos move about sixty billion dollars a year, just in America, with another forty billion in other types of gambling. The Italian Mob, by comparison, moves around a hundred to a hundred and fifty billion per year.

The basic idea is simple: go in, buy some chips, play, win, cash out, and leave. Because the house always wins, this strategy only works with supers whose powers let them cheat at the games. If that's not you, keep looking. Just be aware: from the moment you walk in the door until the moment you walk out, and at every time in between, someone's eyes will be on you.

Up to a point, the casino loves a winner - people who see one customer win have incentive to keep playing, since they could be next. You want to achieve a 1:1 parity of money spent to money earned overall, so that the casino doesn't throw you out. Yeah, they might not be able to seriously hurt you, but avoiding confrontation is important enough to you at this stage that you have to act mortal.

You could work with a friendly casino manager, arranging to win at the games, but this is basically the same as "organized crime" above, and follows the same sort of rules. Even if they aren't friendly, they might still play ball, because at the end of the day, what the casino wants is what you have: money. The hardest part of selling them on your scheme is the idea that you'll get most of it back.

International Markets

Many supers with movement powers can get around the border very easily. I don't know how many of you have actually tried, or thought about it, but there's absolutely no need for you to go through customs. Stick your cash in a duffel bag and fly to Mexico. If you can't get there and back in under a day, though, don't bother.

Speaking the local language is vital. Spanish is the obvious choice for much of Latin America and Mexico. There's a dozen different languages if you prefer working in Asia. English will get you by in Singapore and most of Russia, but the Russians will definitely stab you in the back if given half a chance, and you won't know it's coming unless you're fluent.

In America, the banks are pretty insular. In other parts of the world, the bank is actually who you want to deal with, because they're happy to get their hands on dollars that didn't go through the US's border scrutiny. Until 2012, HSBC was a good choice. These days, catch as catch can. Don't just pick a bank, walk in, and drop a stack of Benjamins, though. Here's a tip: parking lots. Cruise the parking lots where the bank officers leave their cars. You're looking for supercars, sports cars, stuff like that. If you only see a few, or none, move on. If everyone's driving something good, you've found an institution that will probably play ball.

Online Trading and Cryptocurrencies

A lot of people are telling me about non-standard schemes, like trading in-game time for MMORPGs, or new online currencies like Bitcoin. I haven't personally used these schemes, so hopefully someone else can write in with some specifics.

Here's what I do know: these online currencies are designed to be distributed, without a single central authority. They're apparently big with my Libertarian friends for ideological reasons. One friend of mine put it this way: "Bitcoin people are like the reverse of that Ben Franklin quote. They gave up security to purchase a little temporary liberty". Well, that's fair.

I've looked at the exchange rate on cryptocurrencies and I'm not very sanguine - as a commodity, they're incredibly volatile. This is okay if you just want to unload some stolen dollars fast and don't care that you get 100% of your money back, but it's hard to build a long-term budget around an unpredictable element. That said, as a technique for money laundering, the whole approach has some kickass benefits. Until it got shut down, the Silk Road - an online drug marketplace - was proving the benefits of mutually anonymous currency exchanges.

It'll sound paradoxical to a lot of villains reading this, but the strongest point about online markets and alternate currencies is their potential for legitimacy. You could go to the corner and buy crank with your stolen cash, sure, but what do you do then? The whole goal of money laundering is to emerge with legally unencumbered money, and anything that can legitimately be used to buy goods and services by the average citizen is a good path to that. For that reason, I'm looking forward to a broader legal acceptance of stuff like Bitcoin.

Conclusions

So that's it! I hope the advice is useful to someone.

As usual, I'm not giving out specific names and phone numbers, despite some of you lazy shits wanting to know things like "who's the hookup in west Chicago" or "how can I get a drug connection in Portland". I'm here to dispense my experience, not my Rolodex. A proactive, competent villain is a good villain. If you are not these things, villainy is not for you.