By Julie Thornton | August 24, 2021
Over the past few years, there’s been an increase in people allowing their accounts to be used to receive and move money on behalf of third parties. This money often originates from crime. Accounts used to launder criminal funds are called ‘mule accounts’, making the account holder a ‘money mule’.
Young and vulnerable people are increasingly being recruited as money mules and are often unaware that this means they’re involved in money laundering – which is a crime. Anyone allowing their account to be used for this can end up with a criminal record or a prison sentence.
What is Money Muling?
- A money mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts, very often in different countries, on behalf of others.
- Money mules are also recruited by criminals to receive money into their bank account, to withdraw the money and in most cases wire it overseas, receiving a commission payment in return for the provided services.
- Even if money mules are not involved in the crimes which generate the money (cybercrime, payment and on-line fraud, drugs and human trafficking, etc.), they are acting illegally by laundering the proceeds of crime, helping criminal syndicates move funds easily around the world and remain anonymous.
- If you are caught acting as a money mule, even if done so unwittingly, you can face a prison sentence, fine or community service, and the prospect of never again being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.
How are money mules recruited?
As new technologies and trends emerge, organised crime groups develop new systems to defraud people:
- seemingly legitimate job adverts (e.g.: ‘money transfer agents’)
- seemingly legitimate online posts
- direct approach in person or through email
- social media (i.e. Facebook posts on closed groups)
- messages sent through instant messaging apps (e.g.: Whatsapp, Viber)
Who are the most targeted individuals?
- Newcomers to the country (often targeted soon after arrival) as well as the unemployed, students and people in economic distress are the most susceptible to the crime.
- Men are more likely than women to be targeted to become a mule, as are those aged 18-34 years.
What are the warning signs?
The following characteristics do not necessarily indicate a money mule solicitation, but they are commonly used in those solicitations:
- Money mule adverts or offers may copy a genuine company’s website and have a similar web address to make the scam seem authentic.
- If done by email, the writing is often awkward and includes poor sentence structure with grammatical and spelling mistakes. The email address associated with the offer uses a web-based service (Gmail, Yahoo!, Windows Live Hotmail, etc.) instead of an organisation-based domain.
- These adverts will normally state that they are an overseas company seeking ‘local/national representatives’ or ‘agents’ to act on their behalf for a period of time, sometimes to avoid high transaction charges or local taxes.
- The position involves transferring money or goods.
- The specific job duties are not described.
- The position does not list education or experience requirements.
- All interactions and transactions will be done online. The offer promises significant earning potential for little effort.
- The nature of the work that the company will claim to be involved in can vary, but the specifics of the job being advertised invariably mean using your bank account to move money.
How to protect yourself
- If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Be very cautious of unsolicited emails or approaches over social media promising opportunities to make easy money.
- Verify any company that makes you a job offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in your country.
- Be especially wary of job offers from people or companies overseas as it will be harder for you to find out if they really are legitimate.
- Never give your bank account or any other personal details to anyone unless you know and trust them.
What to do if you think you have been targeted
- If you have received e-mails of this type do not respond to them and do not click on any links they contain. Inform the Gardaí instead.
- If you, or someone you know, have been contacted in a way that mirrors any of these red flags, get in touch with the Gardaí and contact the Credit Union or your banking provider straight away. You could help prevent others from unwittingly becoming money mules and even help catch the criminals.