- Consumer Info
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
How to Protect Yourself
How to Respond