What is Structuring?


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“Structuring,” also known as “smurfing,” is a term used in the financial industry to describe the act of breaking down large amounts of money into smaller, less suspicious amounts to evade reporting requirements set by financial institutions or regulatory authorities. It is often associated with money laundering and is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Many countries have regulations requiring banks and other financial institutions to report transactions above a certain threshold. For example, in the United States, banks are generally required to file a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) for cash transactions exceeding $10,000 in one business day. Structuring aims to evade such reporting by making multiple deposits or withdrawals just below the reporting threshold.

Example of Structuring

Let’s delve into a detailed example to illustrate structuring:

Scenario: Emily’s Art Trafficking

Background: Emily is involved in illicit art trafficking. She sells a stolen painting to a buyer and receives $60,000 in cash. Aware of the regulatory requirements around large cash transactions, Emily decides to use structuring to deposit her funds without drawing attention.

Structuring Activities:

  • Day 1: Emily visits her local bank and deposits $9,900 in cash into her account.
  • Day 2: To avoid pattern detection, Emily goes to a different branch of the same bank and deposits another $9,800.
  • Day 3: Emily decides to use a different bank and deposits $9,700.
  • Day 4: Back to the first bank, but yet another branch, she deposits $9,950.
  • Day 5: Emily visits a credit union and deposits $9,750.
  • Day 6: At another bank branch, she deposits $9,900.

Emily believes that by consistently depositing amounts just below the $10,000 reporting threshold and diversifying her deposits across different branches and banks, she can effectively prevent any single transaction from being automatically reported.

Bank’s Response:

After a week, the first bank notices the pattern of deposits just below the reporting threshold. While each deposit is below $10,000, the regularity and amounts raise suspicions. The bank files a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), noting the pattern which appears to be an attempt to evade the Currency Transaction Report (CTR) requirements.


A few weeks later, law enforcement contacts Emily about her banking activity. They’ve received the SAR, investigated her financial activities, and identified the pattern of structuring. Emily now faces potential legal consequences not just for her art trafficking but also for her attempt to evade reporting requirements through structuring.

This example underscores the risks associated with structuring. Even if individual transactions don’t trigger automatic reports, unusual or suspicious patterns can still be noticed by vigilant financial institutions, leading to investigation and legal repercussions.

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