Understanding and Protecting Yourself Against Money Mule Schemes
The ask comes through a job posting or from someone you meet online. It seems simple and harmless enough: provide your bank account information and allow money transfers to flow into your account. Then move the money elsewhere and maybe earn a little cash for the trouble. Easy, painless, profitable. Right?
Wrong. You are likely aiding criminals by acting as a money mule, which can land you in prison and permanently damage your financial standing.
The FBI is joining with law enforcement partners worldwide to raise awareness of and curtail this illegal movement of funds, which is fueling the growth of crimes across the globe.
The FBI defines a money mule as a person who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another. Money mules often receive a commission for the service or provide assistance because they believe they have a trusting or romantic relationship with the individual who is asking for help.
Much of the money moved through these third-parties is stolen through Internet-enabled frauds, thefts, and scams. Drug trafficking and human trafficking are also common sources of the money. While some money mules may be genuinely unaware of their involvement in a larger criminal scheme, many fully understand they are moving money attained from unlawful activities. All mules, whether unaware or complicit, are committing a crime.
“Money mules are needed to help move stolen money from country to country, avert the scrutiny of financial institutions, and mask the identity of the individuals involved in these largely Internet-enabled crimes,” said Special Agent James Abbott of the Bureau’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit at FBI Headquarters. “Being able to easily move the profits from these crimes contributes to their rapid growth and threatens the safety and security of everyone who has a presence online.”
“It’s crucial to understand that what may look to be the harmless movement of money from place to place is anything but harmless.”
James Abbot, special agent, FBI Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit
The FBI recently conducted more than 300 interviews with individuals who had been flagged by financial institutions for activity that indicated they were acting as money mules. The stories they relayed to FBI agents help draw a picture of how these individuals, who span every race, gender, and age demographic, are recruited and used:
- A female who worked in early childhood education met a man on an online dating site. He was kind to her and told her he worked for a children’s charity. A few weeks after they began communication, the man asked her to receive some money into her account for his charity. Over the next several weeks, he attempted to wire a total of $250,000 into her account. He then instructed her to wire the money into other bank accounts or obtain cashier’s checks and mail them to individuals at his direction.
- On another dating website, a man met another man who claimed he was a captain in the U.S. Army, stationed overseas. The “Army captain” told the man he was trying to arrange his travel home to the United States and needed the man’s assistance in receiving some money and sending it elsewhere. The man had $10,000 wired into his account and was instructed to withdraw the money in small chunks and send it to a woman in Texas.
- A retired advertising executive who was looking to earn some extra money found a “work at home” opportunity online. He was hired and then directed to create a business and open a new bank account for that business. He was then told he’d receive a series of deposits and would be instructed where to send the money. He believed the business was facilitating importing and exporting.
These individuals were all likely unaware that what they were doing was illegal or damaging. The money they pledged to move, however, may have been funneled through phishing scams or business email compromise schemes, leaving untold victims in their wake. “It’s crucial to understand,” Abbott said, “that what may look to be the harmless movement of money from place to place is anything but harmless.”
Signs You May Be Acting as a Money Mule
- You received an unsolicited email or contact over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
- The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook).
- You are asked to open up a bank account in your own name or in the name of a company you form to receive and transfer money.
- As an employee, you are asked to receive funds in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds” via a wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
- You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer.
- Your duties have no specific job description.
- Your online companion, whom you have never met in person, asks you to receive money and, subsequently, forward the funds to an individual you do not know.
How to Protect Yourself
- A legitimate company will not ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money. Do not accept any job offers that ask you to do this.
- Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company in order to open up a new bank account.
- Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you met them online.
- Be wary when job advertisements are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
- Be suspicious when the individual you met on a dating website wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.
- Perform online searches to check the information from any solicitation emails and contacts.
- Ask the employer, “Can you send a copy of the license/permit to conduct business in my county or state?”
How to Respond
- If you have received solicitations of this type, do not respond to them, and do not click on any links they contain. Inform your local police or the FBI.
- If you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, stop transferring money immediately and notify your bank, the service you used to conduct the transaction, and law enforcement.
For more information, read and share the FBI's Money Mule Awareness Booklet.
This article courtesy of fbi.gov.