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Money Mule Employment Scams

September 9, 2020

While getting paid well for relatively little work - from home - always sounds appealing, this is especially true in the current job market. Online recruitment ads with titles like “money transfer agent,” “payment processing agent,” or “mystery shopper” start showing up, and the details might sound a little vague, but the job sounds easy enough, and better yet, can usually be done from home.

Unfortunately, many of the “companies” running those ads are actually criminal enterprises trying to recruit money mules or “smurfers.” A money mule is someone who, in effect, launders money acquired illegally. When someone is “hired” for such a position, they’re often asked to provide their bank account information as part of employee onboarding. They don’t realize it at the time, but that information is typically used for receiving wire transfers and perhaps counterfeit checks. For example, the “employer” will wire their “employee” $5,000, then – to help avoid taxes or transfer fees – ask the employee to transfer $4,000 of that to another location, typically overseas.

Following are typical warning signs for a money mule employment scam:

  • The ad states you can earn a large amount of money for minimal effort
  • You’re asked to work as a local representative for an overseas company
  • The job description lacks details
  • No experience or education is required
  • The position involves transferring money or goods

Why Do Criminals Use Money Mules?

  • Speed – they can often direct the movement of victim funds through money mules faster than law enforcement can keep track
  • Low Cost – the percentage the money mule takes is victim money which actually never belonged to the criminal
  • Low Risk – each money mule adds one more level of distance between the victim and the criminal
  • Evolution of crime – criminals adapt their behaviors as necessary, based on the evolution of law enforcement and financial sector practices.

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While someone acting as a money mule may not always be aware of their role in an illegal enterprise, they will be held financially and criminally responsible if they’re caught. Here are some of the possible criminal charges a money mule could face:

  • Mail fraud – maximum 20 years imprisonment and/or $250,000 fine. If a financial institution is affected – maximum $1M fine or 30 years imprisonment or both.
  • Wire Fraud – maximum 20 years imprisonment. If a financial institution is affected – maximum $1M fine or 30 years imprisonment or both
  • Bank Fraud – Maximum $1M fine or 30 years imprisonment or both
  • Money Laundering – maximum $500,00 or maximum 20 years imprisonment or both
  • Transactional Money Laundering – Maximum $250,000 fine or maximum 10 years imprisonment or both

Protect yourself

  • Always be skeptical of opportunities that seem too good to be true. Do your research about companies before accepting a job or giving out your personal information.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited emails and social posts.
  • Verify company information online or give them a call.
  • Double check job offers from overseas companies.
  • Never give your bank account information.

Employment scams aren't the only way scammers recruit money mules, but it is one of the most common. If you believe you're a victim, please contact your bank and local police right away. You don't want to pay the price for someone else's crimes.