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Don’t Be A Money Mule

By Ashleigh, K-Staff

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You receive an email that says “You culd be making $1000 a day werking from home. Apply here!”

(Yes, those typos are intentional in this instance). You’re promised working from the comfort of your home, making your own schedule, and little to no work all for a little extra cash. Your new employer asks you to open a new account that they can deposit money into, and they ask you to wire some of your money into another account. You wire $10,000 to this other account and soon get a call from the FBI and realize you’ve been scammed.

While you might be able to find a job that can pay you $1,000 a week working from home, this type of setup and method of receiving a paycheck is a scam. And it’s common enough that the United States Postal Service recently released a warning about thieves and scammers who are using innocent or unwitting victims to move ill-gotten gains through legitimate accounts for purposes of hiding it from authorities.

What is a "money mule"?

A money mule transfers illegally acquired money or items on behalf of a criminal, either unknowingly or willingly. Mules are recruited to move money in various ways, through bank accounts, cash or virtual currency such as Bitcoin. Criminals exploit their mules by adding layers of recipients to their money trail between them and the victim. Money mules are used to launder the proceeds from criminal activities including fraud, drugs, and human trafficking. These layers make it more difficult for the police to track money from a victim to the criminal.

Are there any consequences to being a money mule?

Yes, even though you might unknowingly be a mule, there could still be consequences—acting as a money mule is still illegal and punishable. Federal charges you could face include mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. For that reason, prevention is very important.

Who’s at risk?

Everyone and anyone. In truth, we all can be susceptible to becoming a money mule. However, there are certain groups of people that criminals like to target, including students, new migrants, small business owners, retirees, job seekers, those looking for romance and those suffering from memory loss. The scammers capitalize on the emotions, stress, and lack of knowledge and experience of their victims to convince them to perform illegal activities.

Identifying different types of money mules

According to the FBI, there are three types of money mules, unknowing, witting or complicit.

  • Unknowing mules are unaware that they are a part of a larger scheme, often fooled by false job offers and approached by strangers on social media. They are asked to open a bank account to receive and transfer money for someone they have never met in person.
  • Witting mules are those who ignore obvious red flags. Many have been warned by their financial institution that they are involved in criminal activity but fail to listen and act due to the potential financial compensation or unwillingness to accept their role in criminal activity. It’s hard to admit you may have been fooled! The consequences for continuing the activity can be extremely damaging, however.
  • Complicit mules are aware of their role and actively participate in the scheme. These mules are often receiving financial compensation and can be loyal to a certain criminal group. They might advertise their services and even recruit others to become money mules.

How to protect yourself

Ask yourself:

  • Is this company legit? A legitimate company will NEVER ask you to open a bank account specifically for depositing your paycheck and they won’t ask you to transfer money from your account.
  • Do I know this person? If a stranger contacts you through email or social media offering you quick cash, don’t give out any financial information or act on their request.
  • Can I really make $1,000 a week doing nothing? Maybe, but chances are the offer is too good to be true. It can sometimes be easy to identify a scam, because they are often poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
  • Have I found the one for me? If you’re dating online and think you might have found your next true love, make sure you can truly trust them before you give out any financial information. Learn more about how to spot an online dating scam here.
  • Fact checking. When you receive an email offering a job, it’s a good idea to search online for the company and individuals who are named in any solicitation emails and contacts to verify their legitimacy. Consider making contact with these individuals yourself to verify the job’s validity.

If you suspect you have been—or have been approached to become—a money mule, your first action should be to stop all communication with suspected criminals and cancel any transfers of money or valuable items. Keep your receipts. Hang on to any of your contacts and communication, such as, email, texts or chats. Then, let Kirtland FCU (and your other financial institutions) know as soon as possible by calling 1-800-880-5328.

Sources: FBI.gov (https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/money-mules#Stories)
FTC.gov (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/whats-money-mule-scam) 

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