A money mule is someone who is used to transfer and launder illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. These scams can happen in several ways and can be related to online dating, work-at-home jobs or gifts and prizes. Scammers will send money to you and then ask you to send some of it to someone else. It may seem like a good idea since they are giving you some of the money, however they don’t tell you the money is stolen. There never was a relationship, job or prize – only a series of carefully crafted lies to lure you in to the scam.
How Do Money Mule Scams Work?
A scammer will pose as someone who might offer you a job, say you’ve won a sweepstakes or start an online relationship with you. Whatever the story, next they want to send you money – and then ask you to send it to someone else. They often advise you to wire the money or use gift cards. However, that money is stolen and the scammer is using you as a “money mule.” If you deposit a scammer’s check, it may clear, but when the bank finds out it’s a fake check, you’ll be responsible for repaying the bank. And if you help a scammer move stolen money – even if you did so unknowingly – you could get into legal trouble.
Who is at Risk and How are Money Mules Recruited?
Anyone can be approached to be a money mule, but criminals often target students, those looking for a job or a relationship, small business owners, seniors and recent retirees. Money mules are usually recruited through job websites, dating websites, social media platforms, online classifieds and phishing emails.
What are the Types of Money Mule Scams?
Unwitting or Unknowing – Individuals are unaware they are part of a larger scheme
- Often solicited by an online romance or job offer
- Asked to use their personal bank account or open a new account to receive money from someone they have never met in person
- May be told to keep a portion of the money they are asked to transfer
- Perform these actions because they have trust in the actual existence of their relationship or job position
Witting – Individuals ignore obvious red flags or act blind to their financial activity
- May have been warned by bank employees they were involved with fraudulent activity
- Open accounts with multiple banks
- May have been unwitting at first, but continue communication and participation
- Motivated by financial gain or an unwillingness to acknowledge their role in the scam
Complicit – Individuals are aware of their role and actively participate
- Open bank accounts to receive money from a variety of individuals or businesses for criminal reasons
- Advertise their services as a money mule and include what actions they offer and at what cost
- Travel, as directed, to different countries to open bank accounts
- Recruit other money mules
- Motivated by financial gain or loyalty to a known criminal group
What are Money Mule Indicators?
You may be a money mule if...
- You received an unsolicited email or social media message which promises easy money for little or no effort
- The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based services such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail
- You are asked to open a bank account in your own name to receive and transfer money. And you are told to keep a portion of the money you transfer
- Your position has no specific job description or duties
- An online contact or companion that you’ve never met in person asks you to receive money and then forward the funds to one or more individuals you do not know
If you believe you are participating in a Money Mule Scam...
- Stop! Communication with any suspected criminals
- Stop! Transferring money or any other items of value
- Maintain any receipts, contract information and relevant communications (email or text messages)
- Notify your bank and the service you used to conduct the transaction
- Notify Law Enforcement. Report suspicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and contact your local FBI field office.
What Should You Do?
- Never agree to move money for someone who contacts you, even if they promise a relationship, job, or prize
- Pass this information on to your family and friends. You may see right through these scams, but chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder
- Do not accept any job offers that ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money. A legitimate company will not ask you to do this
- Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company to open up a new bank account
- Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know or 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
- Utilize the privacy settings on your social media and be selective about the information you make public
- If you are unsure whether or not you are being used as a money mule and you are uncomfortable talking to law enforcement, contact your local branch
To learn more about scams, how to protect yourself and your personal information, check out our other blogs on Privacy & Cybersecurity and visit the Lakeland Bank identity theft information center. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam or your personal information has been compromised, we’re here to help! Contact us.