Money/Assets/Property that is earned through unethical sources is called ?

Money that is earned through bad sources like corrupted politics, corrupted business, ransom money, stolen or theft money. What is such money called? Is it bad money, black money. What is one particular name for it?

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    It is called wealth. – Brian Donovan Jul 12 '14 at 13:23
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    @BrianDonovan wealth is the general name for good or bad money. btw nice pick – vaibhav Jul 14 '14 at 15:38
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    bribe/ black mmoney? – Nikita P Jul 15 '14 at 8:25

11 Answers 11


It is often called: dirty money:

  • Profit from the sale of narcotics, prostitution, guns, or other illegal activities. Money that needs to be laundered.

  • money obtained illegally.


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    Well, how about a suggestion for adding more to this answer: it's worth noting that the process of getting rid of dirty money to get money that is more safely usable is called money laundering, literally cleaning the money. – KRyan Jul 13 '14 at 15:42
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    @tchrist While I agree with your comment, I feel compelled to point out that your first sentence, as written, might be read by a user unfamiliar with this site's policies as contradicting your second. You should clarify that the reason why pure-citation answers are inappropriate for a question-and-answer site is that they don't add value that distinguishes us from a commonly-available reference, and thereby reduces the utility of the site as a source of information not available in those sources. – user867 Jul 15 '14 at 1:51
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    This answers the question perfectly. No commentary is necessary. – Kik Jul 15 '14 at 13:05
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    Regarding "laundering" of dirty money, it is the passing of money gained through illicit means through banks, services, and asset purchases to confuse attempts to trace a particular bit of cash or an asset back to the original crime. Laundered money is still technically an illicit gain, but after enough scrubbing, might not be legally seizable. – Phil Perry Jul 15 '14 at 15:06
  • @EdwinAshworth - Hi Edwin, what did you have for breakfast this morning? – user66974 Apr 7 '16 at 11:35

From dictionary.com...

ill-gotten gains Benefits obtained in an evil manner or by dishonest means, as in They duped their senile uncle into leaving them a fortune and are now enjoying their ill-gotten gains . [Mid-1800s]

I think one reasonably consistent distinction between this and @Josh61's suggestion is...

dirty money was usually already "illegal, hot, immoral" before the current "owner" got his hands on it. It passes through a "chain" of criminals all involved in illegal/immoral activities.

ill-gotten gains has no such "chain of illegal activity" connotations. Often it's just wealth "improperly" acquired by the current owner by a single illegal/immoral action.

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    I've never heard of dirty money as necessarily having previous criminal owners. Ill-gotten gains is certainly a good suggestion, but I don't think your distinction holds. – KRyan Jul 13 '14 at 15:43
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    I agree that ill-gotten gains would be an odd choice to call money you didn't gain yourself through ill means. But I don't think anyone would find it odd to call money you got from a bank heist dirty money. – KRyan Jul 13 '14 at 16:34
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    @KRyan: I only said mine was a reasonably consistent distinction. I've no idea how many of the upvotes for this answer are specifically agreeing with my contention that such a distinction is often recognised. Perhaps no-one except me recognises it, and all the upvotes are just because "ill-gotten gains" has always been more common than "dirty money". – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '14 at 17:04
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    If I were answering this question, I'd have answered with "Ill gotten gains" but when I saw "dirty money", I immediately thought that was also an excellent answer. As to the distinction made by Fumble, I can see his point, but I'm not sure the distinction is always there. However; there are certainly times, where "dirty money" fits much better than "Ill.." as Fumble himself points out. +1 – TecBrat Jul 14 '14 at 15:54
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    @TecBrat: Once again, I am not claiming my distinction is "always there". I'm saying that to the extent anyone might ever wish to assign the two different terms to money which passes through the hands of numerous different people engaged in a chain of immoral activity on the one hand, and money improperly acquired by one person through an activity that's not part of such a chain, I think it's reasonable to assume most people would assign the two terms the way I have. – FumbleFingers Jul 14 '14 at 16:25

A classic cliche for describing money "earned" in this manner is filthy lucre or just lucre:

filthy lucre Money; money or other material goods acquired through unethical or dishonorable means, dirty money. (See The Free Dictionary's entry under money.)

Lucre itself has taken on the shameful meaning imparted to it originally by the adjective filthy:

Word History: When William Tyndale translated aiskhron kerdos, "shameful gain" (Titus 1:11), as filthy lucre in his edition of the Bible, he was tarring the word lucre for the rest of its existence. But we cannot lay the pejorative sense of lucre completely at Tyndale's door. He was merely a link, albeit a strong one, in a process that had begun long before with respect to the ancestor of our word, the Latin word lucrum, "material gain, profit." This process was probably controlled by the inevitable conjunction of profit, especially monetary profit, with evils such as greed. In Latin lucrum also meant "avarice," and in Middle English lucre, besides meaning "monetary gain, profit," meant "illicit gain." (See The Free Dictionary: lucre.)

  • that's what I would have answered. filthy lucre is itself a calque on Latin turpe lucrum. – jlovegren Jul 12 '14 at 16:18
  • This answer is not complete without a big band reference. (Originally from Gold Diggers of 1933). (But I +1'd cause I listened to the song anyways.) – Patrick M Jul 15 '14 at 5:40
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    I've never heard filthy lucre used to mean ill-gotten gains. I've only ever heard it used in the sense that lucre is inherently filthy, with filthy redundantly appearing in order to allude to the saying, "money is the root of all evil." Interesting how connotations change or get lost. – SevenSidedDie Jul 16 '14 at 5:31

In addition to loot and booty, which are limited, and dirty money, which is quite general, I would offer up the more specific blood money.

Loot and booty are more specifically for theft or ransacking of a national treasure, such as a tomb filled with gold. Dirty money is quite general and can be used for any illegally or unethically acquired gain.

Blood money is used to describe a situation where one party gains financially at the detriment or even death of another. The winning party then gives money to the hurt party or the next of kin.

In more casual use, I have heard people referring to any money gained through murder or other violent acts as blood money. For example, someone might say that

The mafia family built their inheritance on blood money.

A similar term is blood diamond. Its use is reserved for diamonds that were acquired through violence or harsh mining conditions. Considering that use, with some creativity in the situation, you might prepend any item of value with the word blood to give your audience the impression of acquiring the asset through violence or other dubious means. Jokingly, you could say

John's promotion was a blood promotion, because he was ruthless in acquiring it.

Other cultures use the term more specifically and even legally. Westernized cultures use it loosely and never legally, as far as I know.

Wikipedia has an entry on blood money.

  • By the same logic and specificity, drug money is equally self evident. Blood money however does have usage outside of its literal meaning, which in my experience drug money lacks - it is more restricted in this sense. – naughtilus Jul 15 '14 at 13:02
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    Blood money is also used in societies that have the option of a victim or victims family receiving payment in lieu of other punishments. – Neuromancer Jul 15 '14 at 15:52
  • Booty seems a good all-purpose term for any sort of unearned gain, from war-looting to lottery-wins. Except for the fact that the gang of idiots formerly known as the human race decided to use the word for sexual purposes. Idiots. Blood money, aside from being two words, suggests mostly extreme cases, especially The Merchant of Venice... – Kibitzologist Sep 29 '14 at 3:35
  • @Kibitzologist Whatever the meaning, I wouldn't mind a healthy share of some booty. – fredsbend Sep 29 '14 at 4:12
  • Blood diamond refers to diamonds that finance conflicts, not how they were acquired. – Andrew Grimm Dec 28 '17 at 8:33

Graft. Graft is corruption usually through bribery; political favor for political donation.

  • It also means gains secured by corruption. Good answer. – vickyace Jul 13 '14 at 12:34

Two terms used in British law are "immoral earnings" and "the proceeds of crime". The former refers specifically to money made through prostitution; the second to any material profit from criminal activity.

  • Note that since income from prostitution is taxable then HRMC can be called to task for having income from immoral earnings but personally I would say the two terms have a one to one mapping with parliamentary salary and parliamentary expenses. – Steve Barnes Jul 16 '14 at 20:23

The word you're looking for is "booty" or possibly "loot"

Booty - From the low german bute; A sharing of the spoils of criminality

Loot - From the Sanskrit luṇṭhati; Something taken by dishonesty

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    both of those words have completely different meanings now in the mainstream public. Loot is just a synonym for any money ("I'm out getting my loot") and, well, booty has a different more common meaning to the masses as well. – stephenbayer Jul 14 '14 at 22:32
  • no Loot is specifically things obtained by physically stealing during wars or other civil disturbances. – Neuromancer Jul 15 '14 at 15:54
  • @stephenbayer A dual meaning used to advantage by Sara Lorimer in her book Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas. – Spehro Pefhany Jul 15 '14 at 19:59
  • You and I against the world, Richard! PS: Shake your moneymaker!! =] – Kibitzologist Sep 29 '14 at 3:42

Black money- income illegally obtained or not declared for tax purposes.

Google the term.

Investopedia says "black money: proceeds, usually received in cash, from underground economic activity. Black money is earned through illegal activity and, as such, is not taxed. Possible sources of black money include drug trafficking, weapons trading, terrorism, prostitution, selling counterfeit or stolen goods and selling pirated versions of copyrighted items such as software and musical recordings."

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    I think black money has little currency outside of Indian English - where I assume it's arisen primarily by extension from the thriving black economy in India – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '14 at 11:49
  • Furthermore this term seems to focus on legality, rather than ethics. – Ben Voigt Jul 14 '14 at 17:05
  • Money to be spent only at the black market... – naughtilus Jul 15 '14 at 13:04
  • @FumbleFingers "little currency" nice pun! – Mari-Lou A Sep 7 '14 at 9:09
  • Hi Fumble - it's odd you would suggest that is InE. "the black economy" is used extremely commonly everywhere (just google) – Fattie Dec 13 '15 at 16:35


As in a 'grifter' or 'grifting', money obtained via a swindle.



Personally I would say "MPs Income" - but seriously I would say "Illegitimate Income" - i.e. any income from sources that are not those that are Legitimate. The other phrase that is often used is "under the counter".


mucky pelf


(derogatory): money or wealth, esp. if dishonestly acquired; lucre

[C14: from Old French pelfre booty; related to Latin pilāre to despoil]

Collins English Dictionary

: money; riches; lucre; gain; -- generally conveying the idea of something ill-gotten or worthless. It has no plural.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary

evil-gotten gains; misbegotten gains

The price paid for wrongdoing seems rather enticing. The violators are almost encouraged to violate the law because the penalty is so small. The evil-gotten gains are expansive. The sanctions are minuscular.

Increasing Criminal Penalties Under the Sherman Antitrust Act: Hearing, Eighth-third Congress, Second Session on H.R. 2237. July 7, 1954


adverb in an evil, wicked, or offensive way (now only in hyphenated compounds) ⇒ evil-hearted

Collins American English Dictionary

Evil gotten, evil spent.

Dictionary of English Proverbs and Proverbials


: unlawfully obtained misbegotten gains

Collins English Dictionary

protected by tchrist Jul 15 '14 at 1:43

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