Authorities in UK, US seeing rise in ‘money mules’ for money laundering
Both the FBI and authorities in the U.K. and Europe are warning citizens to resist being money mules for financial crimes.
So-called money mules agree to let fraudsters use their bank accounts as a laundering pass-through. Criminals deposit money in their accounts, and then the account holders move the money on to another bank account in accordance with instructions.
The money mules gain an under-the-table fee in what seems to some as easy money. But perpetrators risk criminal convictions for charges like money laundering.
Recruiters of money mules downplay the criminal angle and emphasize the fast-and-easy-money pitch. Recruiters regularly advertise on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, according to the BBC. And recruiters target teenagers on up.
Victims of financial fraud know firsthand the heartache of having their stolen funds laundered quickly and easily to the degree that their funds are not recoverable even when the fraud is quickly discovered.
The FBI, for example, shared the story of Aaron Cole and his family. They were the victims of a fraud scheme that relied on a hacked email system of a title company. Cole, who was in the process of purchasing a new home, wired a large payment not to the title company but rather to fraudsters. Cole quickly discovered the mistake and reported it to authorities, but the money had already moved through multiple mule accounts and was out of the country.
Authorities in Europe and the U.S. have initiated education efforts to warn potential mules about tactics of recruiters. The FBI listed the following tips not to be a money-laundering mule.
Signs You May Be Acting as a Money Mule
- You receive 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 then forward the funds to an individual you do not know.
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