College of Liberal Arts

The Buck Stops Here

Posted April 15, 2014

By Jessica Sinn

1389117597Hit TV series like Breaking Bad demonstrate just how far criminals will go to conceal their piles of dirty money. But of all the countries in the world, these illicit activities are most easily carried out under the guise of shell companies right here in the United States.

A shell company is a business in name only, with no actual employees or products. It exists only on paper and can be set up within a matter of hours. They are the global getaway cars for criminals involved in money laundering, bribery, tax evasion, drug trafficking, and perhaps even terrorism, says Michael Findley, assistant professor of government.

To see just how far they could go to secure an untraceable shell company, Findley and his research team impersonated a range of criminals – from money launderers to terrorist financiers to drug traffickers. They made thousands of email solicitations to nearly 4,000 services in more than 180 countries around the world. Despite the glaring red flags signaling potential security threats, they were able to secure approval to set up untraceable shell companies online for as little as a few hundred dollars.

“On the whole, forming an anonymous shell company is as easy as ever in the United States, despite supposed increased attention following 9/11,” says Findley, who focuses much of his research on terrorism and counterterrorism.  “The results are disconcerting and demonstrate that we are much too far from a world that is safe from crime and terror.”

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