What are money mules?
Money mules are people who take stolen money or merchandise and transport it for other criminals.
They may be recruited by criminals to take stolen credit card information and use it, but many times they are unaware that what they are doing is part of a crime.
They are largely victims in the scheme of a criminal.
How does this scheme work?
According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team, criminal schemes that take advantage of money mules are often disguised to seem like legitimate opportunities, such as a chance to work-from-home.
Criminals might use advertisements to con someone who likes the idea of flexible jobs convenience to their schedule.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, criminals who are looking for a money mule might create an email that looks professional and legitimate in order to avoid spam filters.
They may also provide links to fake websites that were designed to look professional and to promote a company that may not even exist.
At other times, criminals may even advertise on legitimate job sites.
Once a victim has agreed to be a money mule – though they may not realize they have done so – the fake employer collects personal information from the new “employee.”
This could include his or her Social Security Number and bank account information.
The money mule could even be asked to sign a document that appears to be a contract.
According to federal authorities, a financial account will then be created in order for the “employee” to receive either money or another type of merchandise.
The money mule will then be told to transfer the money to another account or to take the funds to another person.
Sometimes, they are told to keep their “share” of the money as their income for the “job.”
In some cases, the criminal behind the fake company tells the “employee” to use a wire transfer for the money.
Eventually, the criminal “employer” takes possession of the money, but has hidden his or her involvement in the fraud that took place.
What risk does a money mule face?
Though they may not realize they’ve been caught up in a fraudulent transaction, money mules face several risks.
Some could face criminal prosecution for their involvement, though that often depends on the prosecuting agency and the evidence that exists in the specific case.
During an investigation into the fraud, money mules might have their bank accounts frozen, which could cause a financial burden and lead to future credit score problems.
Sometimes, a money mule could be held responsible for repaying the money or other losses that occurred in the fraudulent process.
They also could become a victim of identity theft, since the criminal “employer” has personal information.
How do I avoid becoming a money mule?
- Legitimate companies won’t ask you to use your own financial accounts to transfer any type of money. If you’ve received a job advertisement that ask you do use your own bank account as part of your work, don’t respond to it.
- Avoid job advertisements, websites or social media posts that promise easy, quick money. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Be cautious of job offers from foreign companies. When you receive a job advertisement, do research on the company. Never hand over personal information without verifying the authenticity of a company.
If you find yourself caught up in a transaction that could be fraudulent, stop the activity and notify your local law enforcement authority.
You might also need to talk to your bank.
Download a PDF fact sheet from the United States Department of Homeland Security, which outlines the risks of money mule schemes, by going to this link: https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/money_mules.pdf