In electronic theft cashing out stolen money is a large problem: if you hack into someone's bank account and transfer the money to your bank account, the operation is trivially trackable to your name.

The criminals overcome this problem by hiring service from homeless, addicts, and other such 'refuse of the society' - for a small fee, such person creates a bank account, to which the stolen money is transferred. Then they cash out at the bank or ATM, and pass most of the money to the criminals, while keeping a small margin for themselves.

In other cases they manage purchases of items which are legal to own but easily trackable as used in a major crime (plus trackable to the buyer) - for example chemicals used to make drugs, or obtain documents to their name, which are then used by criminals to perform fraudulent operations, providing identity which will make the pursuit futile.

Frequently, they are soon caught, but their social situation makes it obvious it wasn't them who committed the theft, they can't provide much info on the criminals, and merely acting as a minor accomplice of the criminals lands them a small sentence which they serve, while keeping the money (or having them spent even before being caught).

How is such a 'job'/'position' called?

In Polish this is called "Słup", literally a pole the kind like telegraph poles. I'm not sure about the exact origin, but it almost certainly comes from prison slang. And of course, consecutively, English slang name is perfectly okay for the answer.

I've encountered the name 'Smurfs' appearing in the show 'Breaking Bad', but I'm not sure if this is the case - 'Smurfs' were people who purchased small amounts of off-the-shelf drugs which were then used to make illegal drugs. By making small purchases like that, they wouldn't arise suspicions. Here we have a case where the purchase definitely does arise suspicion, for example a bulk order from a wholesale retailer. But since at the moment of the purchase there's no reason to refuse it, the substance is sold, and when the drug on the streets is tracked back to the purchase, the identity of the buyer is a dead end.

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    cat's paw - a person used by another as a dupe or tool. Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 13:16
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    @Josh61: OED's first citation for figurative cat's paw is 1657, so it's not exactly the "freshest" figurative usage around! There's also figurative mule, which is less than a century old - it's close to OP's required sense (courier of contraband goods, esp. drugs) but I don't think it quite works (because in OP's case the service provided by the "puppet" is primarily "anonymous identity" rather than "transport of illegal goods"). Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 13:28
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    @DanBron - excellent job anyway!!!
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 13:35
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    @LittleEva: Not in my case - in my specific situation I need the specific word for that service; the person in question is lower-middle class, definitely not the 'refuse' level, but providing identity to a true criminal overlord.
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 13:38
  • 1
    How about proxy? Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 13:41

4 Answers 4


I believe you are looking for straw man/person, straw owner or straw buyer. Straw itself is used also. When the context is bank fraud, I see the usage of middleman as well.

straw man: a person to whom title to property or a business interest is transferred for the sole purpose of concealing the true owner and/or the business machinations of the parties.

straw owner: ...is a person who owns property legally or has the legal appearance of owning something but does so on behalf of another, sometimes for a fee, and typically solely to hide the identity of the effective owner. Most instances of straw ownership are legal, but the arrangement is sometimes made for nefarious, illegal purposes.

straw buyer: a person who makes a purchase on behalf of another person. A straw buyer is used when the real buyer cannot complete the transaction for some reason. It is not necessarily illegal to use a straw buyer, except where the transaction involves fraud or purchasing goods for someone who is legally barred from making the purchase themselves.


You must also be looking for evidence of payments by the principal to the nominee of services rendered. Note: The terms 'straw', 'straw owner' and 'straw man' are sometimes used to describe nominees and their transactions.

Money Laundering: A Guide for Criminal Investigators, Third Edition By John Madinger

Finding a straw owner comes next. It should be someone who needs money, won't ask too many questions, and isn't suspicious. Ideally it's a legal immigrant who doesn't speak fluent English and can be convinced what he's doing is legitimate. With a straw owner, the thief can then incorporate his new business with the state. He'll need to make sure his real name does not appear on the paperwork—only the straw owner's name.

How To Commit Medicare Fraud In Six Easy Steps / fastcompany.com

The bank claims fraud masterminds recruited people, mostly new immigrants, to be "straw buyers." For a payment of up to $8,000, these straw buyers would allow their name to be used to obtain the mortgage on the property.

'Straw buyer' seduced into mortgage scheme / cbc.ca

In another case, BAE secretly passed $10m via HSBC to a local middleman, Shailesh Vithlani, to obtain a radar contract. “It stank and was always obvious that this useless project was corrupt,” protested Claire Short, the UK’s development secretary at the time.

BAE moved money into Vithlani’s Panama entity, Envers Trading Corporation. As the cash flowed in, an HSBC manager met Vithlani in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and advised him how best to invest it. BAE was subsequently convicted of accounting offences in relation to the Vithlani transactions, and paid a £30m ($46m) penalty.

HSBC files: Swiss bank hid money for suspected criminals / theguardian.com


You mean a person acting as front, or acting as an illegal front. You can also set up front companies or you can set up an illegal front company. In any case, "front" is an exact equivalent of "słup" in Polish when it comes to larger and international financial transactions.

  • ELU prefers that answers be documented to explain why they are suited to the question. How do we know that "front" is an equivalent of "slup"? I would think cut-out would be better.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 4:24

The person used to cash out laundered money may be called a (money) mule. They may be scanned into believing their work is legitimate. A similar but older usage is a drugs mule who is coerced and/or paid for transporting someone else's drugs.


When disposing of stolen property involves stolen goods, the intermediary is a fence.

  1. informal A person who deals in stolen goods.


A person who gets rid of stolen money (generally by buying it at a low rate of exchange in order to make the risk worthwhile) may also be referred to as a fence. However the operation in that case, rather than fencing, is money laundering — making dirty money clean. If fence isn't used for such a person, then cleaner is more likely than launderer.

There's an extensive Wikipedia article, which also mentions "Money laundering could be described as the 'fencing of currency'.[citation needed]"

There may be a term for someone who procures goods for an illegal purpose. I don't know what it is, although fixer is a possibility.

ODO's minimal etymology, "Middle English (in the sense 'defending, defence'): shortening of defence. Compare with fencible and fend," would appear still to be relevant in this sense of fence too: the person is providing a defence against detection.

  • This is different in that a fence uses own funds to purchase goods or 'dirty money', and then sells/launders them on their own - usually very rich. In this case it's providing a service only; for example cashing out a bank account balance. It's the same criminal on both ends of the transaction and the person in question is usually penniless.
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 15:21
  • ...also, after such an operation the money is still 'dirty' (the thief is unable to provide a reasonable, legal explanation of its origin), it's just in form of cash (difficult to track, easier to launder) and not account balance.
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 16:45

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