TitleBytes News & Happenings

Money Mule – another type of scam you may not recognize

Dec 12, 2019

By Allan Dick, WFG National Title

In the February, 2019, TitleBytes covered a story regarding an Oregon homebuyer, Aaron Cole, who was scammed out of his life savings and the proceeds from selling his current home, as he prepared to buy a new home for his family, approaching the holidays. FBI Special Agent Yaqub Prowell was assigned to Aaron Cole’s case through the FBI’s Portland Field Office. According to Prowell, the criminals, who stole Cole’s money, could not have carried out the scheme without the involvement of “money mules”.

“Money mules” are laundering money for people who have done some major damage,” said FBI Special Agent Yaqub Prowell, who worked Cole’s case through the FBI’s Portland Field Office. “Who’s losing the money? It’s average people. It’s small companies.” Prowell wants those who act as money mules to recognize that and understand the harm they are doing to others and the peril they are exposing themselves to. First and foremost, acting as a money mule is illegal. Those performing the function can face criminal prosecution, damage to their credit standing, and financial liability for the money they move.

People who agree to allow others to use their bank accounts or open new accounts for these purposes are also linking themselves to criminal organizations. One of the money muling groups involved in Aaron Cole’s case was part of a separate FBI investigation into financial and violent crimes. “These groups are not always just fraudsters,” Prowell said. “That particular group was also dangerous.”

“If you send and receive money at someone else’s request—especially someone you’ve never met—you are likely helping criminals to steal from hardworking people, senior citizens, and small businesses,” said Supervisory Special Agent James Abbott of the FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit.

During a recent eight-week campaign to combat money mules, the FBI partnered with other federal law enforcement agencies to interview more than 550 individuals. They served more than 500 warning letters on individuals who served as money mules for fraud schemes. The letters informed recipients that they could be prosecuted if they continue.

Additionally, more than 30 individuals were criminally charged, in part, for their roles in receiving victim payments and providing the fraud proceeds to accomplices. Abbott stressed that banks and law enforcement take note of unusual account activity: “Anyone who continues to participate in this type of activity should be prepared to hear from the FBI or our partners.”

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 up 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 receive money and then forward the funds to an individual you do not know.

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 up 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?”

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.

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