Some people say money is the root of all evil but few of us would deny that having money makes life easier. That said, getting money involves moving it from where it was to where you are. This happens millions of times per day all over the world with small, barely noteworthy amounts of cash. But sometimes someone needs to move a lot of money, and the logistics behind that, whether legal or not, can be pretty impressive.
10. Criminals Used Deep Fake Tech to Move $35 Million Electronically
Technology and finance are inextricably linked and as one changes so too will the other. Just think, once upon a time there were people using cowrie shells as currency and today you can become rich by having a lot of crypto which doesn’t physically exist at all. That’s kind of amazing. But with advances in technology come advances in stealing that money, which is what happened when some crafty bank robbers pulled off a $35 million electronic heist in 2021 essentially through the use of special effects.
The money was pilfered from a bank in the United Arab Emirates and it was all done without the thieves even leaving their home. They used an AI voice simulator to create a Deep Fake of a business executive. They called the bank as this person and the bank manager, recognizing his client’s voice, went ahead and processed a transaction that moved $35 million.
In the aftermath it was determined the scammers were a team of at least 17 people, and they managed to redirect the cash to several accounts around the world.
9. Hackers Stole $620 Million From an NFT-Based Gaming Company
As big as the cryptocurrency market is, the cryptocurrency heist market, if you can call it that, is also impressively massive. About $3 billion in crypto was stolen in 2022 alone. Some of the crypto that gets stolen will be recovered, the FBI recovered over $3 billion from a 2016 heist and another $3 billion from an earlier heist as well. But some of it will probably be gone forever.
In March 2022, hackers managed to pull off an impressive theft of $620 million worth of crypto by sending an engineer a simple email. They enticed an engineer from the NFT-based game Axie Infinity with a fake job offer. After establishing a rapport, they sent him a “formal” offer. That email was loaded with spyware which they then used to pull off the heist and make off with the cash.
The hackers were based out of North Korea, which is becoming a hub of crypto scamming as it’s apparently a solid source of income for the country now.
8. The UAE Imported $15 Billion in Gold from Africa in 2016 and the Numbers are Shady
Not every movement of wealth is a straight up robbery, but it can still be a little shady and eyebrow raising. For instance, the United Arab Emirates, known to be a wealthy nation, managed to import a stunning $15 billion worth of gold from Africa in 2016. That alone would be impressive because that’s just a lot of gold. But perhaps slightly more noteworthy is the fact that the amount of gold the UAE reported importing was significantly different from the amount those African nations reported exporting.
So what does it mean when someone imports more gold than was exported? Well, it’s possible this was a remarkably bad clerical error or some small variables in taxation and shipping costs but the more likely option seems to be some illicit movement of the metal. Taxes generally have to be paid on shipments of raw ore like this so if you claim to export far less than you actually do, you pay a lot less in taxes overall. That means when a country like Mali posts a massively lower number of exports than UAE’s listed imports from that same country, something is up.
There is a significant black market for African gold, a lot of it based firmly in dangerous and unfair labor practices that even involve child labor.
7. Smugglers Move Tons of Silver Out of China Every Year
Gold is far from the only precious metal that gets moved in quantities through illicit and suspect means. In China, silver has been covering a lot of ground over the years and at some points you could count on about 500 tons of silver to be smuggled through Hong Kong in a given year.
Officials have minimal luck when it comes to stopping the smuggling – a single truck was seized with about 1.1 tons of silver worth about $500,000 in 2016, but catching every single truck is not feasible.
The problem is that this is an established industry for smugglers. Officials cracked a smuggling ring worth $220 million back in 2007 that had already moved 456 tons of the stuff. Of course, the New York Times has a story about smuggled Chinese silver being sold on the world market back in 1935. After nearly a century we can only guess at just how much silver has been smuggled out.
6. Officials in Mexico City Seized Over $200 Million in Drug Money
Making $207 million in a day isn’t something most people will ever do, or businesses, but the Mexico City police department managed it back in 2007. They had been following up on evidence of meth production in the city after seizing large quantities of the drug elsewhere.
With some detective work they tracked the drugs back to what turned out to be an incredibly wealthy neighborhood where many diplomats from other countries lived. Inside their target house they found facilities for producing massive quantities of the drug alongside $205.6 million in US $100 bills that had been stored in cupboards, lockers and suitcases. The cash weighed about 4500 pounds. It was also the largest cash seizure from a drug bust in history.
5. November 2022’s Powerball Lottery Was the Largest Ever with Just a Single Winner
Sure, you could steal money and most of us just work for money but wouldn’t you rather just win it? Just try your luck and get rich out of the blue? That seems like the easiest option and that happened in November 2022 like never before when one person managed to win the world’s biggest Powerball jackpot.
There have been jackpots over $1 billion in the past but the largest to date has been $2.04 billion. The winning ticket was sold in California with the winner becoming one of the wealthiest people in the state overnight. Though not as wealthy as it seems at first glance since the IRS will get 24% before the winner even gets to smell it. But if they live in California which doesn’t tax winnings, then that $2.04 billion turns into $997.6 million which is still a tidy sum to make for literally no effort.
4. A Chinese Smuggling Ring Moved $10 Billion Through Fake Bank Transfers
Moving cash out of China is generally not allowed in large sums and the government tries to keep tabs on the money its citizens have and what they do with it. You can’t move more than $50,000 a year under normal circumstances. Because of that, cash smuggling has become a problem for Chinese authorities and sometimes they crack down on some massive smuggling rings that can move stunning quantities.
In 2011, a cash smuggling ring was caught moving $10 billion in currency between 2007 and 2011. They were basically operating as a traditional bank, just underground and able to transfer money out of the country.
18 people were convicted in total for their involvement which included setting up fake accounts and even fake businesses to help account for why the money was moving and to where.
3. The Biggest Crypto Transfer Ever Moved Over $1 Billion Worth of Bitcoin
We’ve seen what happens when cryptocurrency moves through unscrupulous means, but what about legit (or seemingly legit) transactions? A lot of people made a lot of money in the crypto world and they too move their money around in sometimes dramatic fashion. The world’s largest crypto transfer occurred back in 2020 when what, at the time, was $1 billion worth of Bitcoin was moved.
The owner of the wallet, which hadn’t been touched in about five years, was anonymous. It was possibly a hack, though not very likely, and it was believed the money may have come from Silk Road, that den of criminality that was shut down back in 2013.
At late 2022 rates, the wallet contained substantially more than $1 billion and, in fact, was worth about $2.8 billion.
2. The US Government Sent $12 Billion in Cash to Iraq and Lost It
These days no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on you probably think that the US involvement in Iraq was a bit of a debacle to put it mildly. The country was invaded back in 2003 and then plans to try to rebuild it were undertaken and things fell apart badly. Money was sent with very little oversight or guidance which is how $12 billion completely disappeared.
Just upon hearing this you might think this was a series of electronic transfers or over-billings by contractors or some kind of culmination of months or years of financial mismanagement. It was not. The US literally shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills in plastic, piled them in planes, and flew that massive pile of money to Iraq. By most accounts it sounds like the money was then handed out like Johnny Appleseed spreading his seeds across the land with very little, if any, oversight.
Shipments of literal tons of cash were made regularly, the largest of which was over $2 billion at one time. In total, 363 tonnes (400 tons) of cash was sent. Money was given out in duffel bags or from the back of pick up tricks. Hundreds of thousands were stolen, cash was stored in sacks and their vault keys were left sitting in backpacks. At one point, $500 million was given to a contractor for no reason at all – it was listed as “to be determined.” Thousands of non-existent employees were getting paychecks as well.
In the end, little of the money left a paper trail and was lost for good.
1. The Biggest Transfer of Wealth in History Was Operation Fish
In terms of monumental cash transfers, the truly biggest movement of wealth in history happened all the way back in the Second World War. Canada became the unlikely center of European wealth and the potential seat of England’s continued survival. With the German forces storming the continent, Winston Churchill wanted to hedge his bets in case the worst happened and England fell. The solution was Operation Fish.
Britain had been covertly increasing gold reserves in Canada since 1938 and the efforts were amped up as the war progressed. The plan was to essentially move England’s seat of power to Ottawa in Canada if it came to that and run the commonwealth from the other side of the ocean.
One ship in one trip, the HMS Emerald, carried £230 million in gold and securities in 1940. In 2022, that works out to £15.2 billion or about $18.6 billion US. On just one ship.
The total transfer of wealth in both gold and securities is estimated to have been around £1.72 billion in 1940. Adjusted for inflation that works out to £113.8 billion or about $140 billion USD. Hands down, that was the largest transfer of wealth in history.