FBI warns public against falling for 'money mule' schemes

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is launching a campaign to warn the public against falling for “money mule” schemes.

According to the FBI, the crime involves witting and unwitting victims acting as money mules to move illegally-obtained money between different payment accounts—often in different countries—on behalf of others.

The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division believes the public is more susceptible to these schemes this year due to the surge in unemployment from the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials say more “work from home” job opportunities are being advertised, even on reputable job sites.

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“Criminals recruit money mules to help launder proceeds derived from online scams and frauds or crimes like human trafficking and drug trafficking. They often target the elderly, students, those looking for work, or those on dating websites,” the FBI said in a release. “Money mules often receive a commission for their service, or they might help because they believe they have a trusting or romantic relationship with the individual who is asking for help.”

The FBI says money mules make it harder for law enforcement to accurately trace money trails by adding layers of distance between crime victims and criminals. They say some money mules know they are supporting criminal enterprises, while others may be unaware.

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“Acting as a money mule is illegal and punishable, even if you aren’t aware you’re committing a crime,” the FBI said in the release. “Serving as a money mule can also damage your credit and financial standing. Additionally, you risk having your own personally identifiable information stolen and used by the criminals you are working for, and you may be held personally liable for repaying money lost by victims.”

The FBI shares these tips to protect yourself:

 - Do not accept job offers that ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money.

 - Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company to open a new bank account.

 - Be suspicious when the individual you met on a dating website wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.

 - Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you met them online

If you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, the FBI shares this advice:

 - Stop communication with the suspected criminal(s).

 - Stop transferring money or any other items of value immediately.

 - Maintain any receipts, contact information, and relevant communications (emails, chats, text messages, etc.).

 - Notify your bank and the service you used to conduct the transaction.

 - Notify law enforcement. Report suspicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ww.ic3.gov and contact your local FBI field office.

Click here to learn more about the “Don’t Be a Mule” campaign.