A "money mule" is someone who transfers money through their personal bank account at the request of someone else. The scam itself is a way to electronically launder money obtained from online scams and fraud or from crimes such as human and drug trafficking. The money mule scam makes it difficult for law enforcement to trace illegal funds gained from online scams and internet fraud.
Some money mules know they are supporting criminal enterprises, but many are unaware they are being used as a mule, helping criminals profit by stealing money from unsuspecting victims. These people are typically lured under false pretenses and are unaware of the criminal intent behind their actions.
Money mules are targeted and recruited through online job sites, dating sites, social networking sites, online classifieds, and even Darkweb Forums. The criminal recruiter gains the victim's trust and then entices them by offering an employment opportunity or by establishing a fake relationship. They then convince the victim to open a new bank account or use their existing personal account to receive funds that the criminal will send to them.
The criminal then sends money to that account or mails a check to be deposited. Many mules are promised compensation for their participation, which might include a cut or commission from the money transfer. The criminal provides exact details about how and where to transfer funds out of the account. The criminal may request that the money be withdrawn as cash, transferred to a third party, used to purchase a gift card or converted to virtual currency, such as Bitcoin.
By using the mule's information, the criminal avoids raising any red flags in the banking system. By running the money through the mule's personal account, they are laundering illegally obtained money and removing traces of its criminal history.
In addition to the illegal money laundering aspect of this transaction, the check or funds deposited into the account are often fraudulent and it can take weeks to verify the validity of the check. Criminals exploit the fact that banks must make funds from a check deposit available to the account holder within days of the deposit. They convince the victim to withdraw or transfer money in a certain time frame, before the bank determines the check is fraudulent.
By the time the bank discovers that the check was written on a non-existent account, the victim is out whatever was sent to the scammer, plus any other funds from the fraudulent check that the victim may have withdrawn or used. Banks do not assume those losses.
Using money mules is a low risk and convenient way for criminals to move illegally obtained funds because they provide a high level of anonymity to their criminal recruiters, who can quickly cut ties with the mule to avoid prosecution.
Even those that may be unaware that they are being used as a money mule could get into legal trouble for helping a criminal move stolen money. Money laundering is a crime, and so is being a money mule. If you suspect you were approached to become a money mule, or you believe you have unknowingly become one, contact local law enforcement to report your suspicions.
Unsolicited emails or contacts on social media promising "easy" money.
Communications from a prospective "employer" through a web-based internet service, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or "throw away" email services.
Requests to open a personal bank account to receive and transfer money.
Offers to keep a portion of the funds transferred.
Work-at-home job offers that are limited to moving money.
An online contact asks you to receive and forward funds to unknown individuals.
A work-at-home offer that asks you to transfer money.
Open a bank account or move money at someone else's request.
Give someone access to your bank account or debit card.
Allow money from people you don't know to be deposited into your account.
Accept a job offer that promises easy money and involves sending or receiving money or packages.
Agree to receive or forward packages, or to purchase gift cards or virtual currency at someone's direction.
If you think you might be involved in a money mule or money transfer scam, immediately stop transferring money, notify your financial institution, and report it to local law enforcement. If money was wired or a gift card was used, contact the wire transfer service company or servicer of the gift card and attempt to cancel the transaction.
Finally, report suspicious activity and communications with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and contact your local FBI field office.
To report fraud or if you have a general consumer complaint, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection team at: