How Do Money Mule Scams Work?
You might have heard of drug mules or people who hide and carry drugs for criminals and drug dealers, but the FBI is also warning about money mules. The most concerning part are that people who act as money mules are often innocent victims, unaware they are committing a crime.
Being tricked into being a money mule can ruin your credit and also put you at risk for real jail time. If you use the web or apps for social media, dating, or gaming, this is everything you need to know to protect yourself.
What Is a Money Mule?
A money mule receives money on behalf of someone else, then provides bank transfers or passes that money to other parties. The funds the individual transfers have been illegally acquired by the person who sent them the original sum. Criminals use mules to move money through banks, cards, and paper currency to hide the origin of stolen money.
Money may be moved through money wire, by sending cashier’s checks, buying prepaid debit or gift cards, transferring money through businesses, or similar actions of this sort. The money mule may be instructed to use a combination of the above methods or open multiple accounts. The criminal needs the money mule to hide the money they have stolen and made it harder to track or intercept.
Who Is Targeted?
Innocent people who’ve never had more than a parking ticket are targeted as money mules. This can happen through romance scams or due to fraudulent job offers. The FBI has created an Awareness Booklet of information, to encourage victims to report the crime of being a money mule.
Those in search of easy money are often susceptible to money mule requests.
Common targets include:
- The elderly, retirees, and those with memory loss or health problems.
- College students in need of extra cash.
- Small business owners.
- Online daters.
- Job seekers
- Discount shoppers (as they might be more likely to open emails with offers).
- Those who are new to the country.
Warning Signs (and where victims are found)
You might be more likely to be approached by ringleaders of online criminal organizations, and con men who are looking for money mules when you browse for jobs online, date (whether online platforms or through an app), and use social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Other times, those looking for money mules find them through online classified ads (for example, Craigslist).
They might also send out spam by email and hope you click on it. Other criminals rely on people who wander into the realms of the dark web and want to work with them for a share of the money. You should suspect you are the target of a criminal in search of a money mule if the help or a job you’re asked to do sounds too good to be true.
Unknowingly Involved as a Money Mule?
Immediately stop all the money transfers. Save and collect all the information you have. Screenshot emails, private messages, profiles, and letters you have received. These might be important to prove your innocence and protect yourself. Next, block any social media accounts from anyone who has set you up. Close accounts they have access to (change passwords, etc.) and contact your financial institutions.
Make sure that new passwords you create are 2-factor authenticated and change your “forgot profile” questions if the criminal might know the answers. Check your credit report and continue to monitor it in case your identity has been stolen. You can file a police report if you are concerned about safety or financial loss.
The FBI labels three times of victims:
- Those who don’t know about the crime.
- Those who ignore red flags that would be obvious to others
- Those who intentionally help the criminal or crime ring.
Protect Yourself from Money Mule Scams
Don’t open up accounts for anyone else, especially an online love interest or friend, or a new employer. Do not transfer money from your bank on behalf of others or for a job. Search the identity of online connections and job offers you receive online, including company name and leadership personnel at Social Catfish.
While it is reasonable to worry if you’ve mistakenly found yourself being a money mule, those who have entered into the situation innocently should know that everything will be okay. Report the case to the FBI’s IC3. Use the information you gathered through your Social Catfish search and share that with the authorities.
Have you ever been asked to transfer money or offered payment to deposit money in your account? Did you see any red flags about their offer? How did they contact you? Share your experience in the comments below: