Fraudsters Prey on Emotions and Bank Accounts in Money Mule Schemes
The FBI El Paso Field Office is warning potential victims of a rise in money mule schemes.
A money mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts—often in different countries—on behalf of others. This year, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID) believes the general public is more susceptible to falling for money mule schemes because of an increase in opportunities for recruitment due to the surge in unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 2015 to 2019 reports of fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have more than tripled, going from $1.1 billion to $3.5 billion. Much of this reported fraud has been enabled by money mules using a variety of fraud schemes used to exploit individuals, including computer technical support scams, romance scams, lottery scams, Internal Revenue Service imposter scams, and employment scams. With being the 2nd most populous state, last year Texas was ranked third in the country for the number of money mules—behind only California and Florida.
As these numbers increase, 2020 is offering a new set of challenges including fraudsters preying on those looking to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many companies are being forced to lay off workers or shut down completely during the pandemic, more “work from home” job opportunities are being advertised, even on reputable job sites.
Acting as a money mule—allowing others to use your bank account, or conducting financial transactions on behalf of others, jeopardizes your financial security and compromises your personally identifiable information. Protect yourself by refusing to send or receive money on behalf of individuals and businesses for which you are not personally and professionally responsible.
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 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 conduct financial transactions that they should reasonably be able to do for themselves, and offers to share the proceeds of that transaction with you.
- Your online companion is adamant that you keep the relationship and the associated financial transactions secret.
How to Protect Yourself
- 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 a new bank account.
- Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and 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.
- Ask the employer, “Can you send a copy of the license/permit to conduct business in my county or state?”
- Use 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, consult with your local bank branch.
How to Respond
- If you have received solicitations of this type, do not respond to them and do not click on any links they contain. Inform your local police or the FBI.
- If you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, stop transferring money immediately and notify your bank, the service you used to conduct the transaction, and law enforcement.
If you believe you, or someone you know, has been solicited to be a money mule, please contact the FBI El Paso Field Office at (915) 832-5000. To report suspicious activity, please visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
For more information on money mules, including tips and what you can do if you think you are being targeted, please visit:
- Internet Crime Schemes: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/money-mules
- FBI Money Mule Public Service Announcement: http://www.ic3.gov/media/2009/090203.aspx
- United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team: https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/money_mules.pdf
- United States Treasury – A CTR Reference Guide https://www.fincen.gov/sites/default/files/shared/CTRPamphlet.pdf
- United States Postal Service Scam Victim Resources: https://www.uspis.gov/report/victim-help-resources/#/tips-prevention
Help raise awareness by sharing the facts through #DontBeAMule.