The phrase rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Like cash cow.
What’s the image you conjure up when you hear “money mule?” Do you picture the beast of burden loaded down with the grizzled old prospector’s gold ore, shovel, and camp supplies?
That’s the wrong image for 2019.
A public warning published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in December gives us the up-to-date definition of a money mule: “a person who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another.” A more legalistic term for this is money laundering.
And if you are thinking this looks like white-collar criminals carrying around suitcases of cash, you are mostly wrong. The picture I’m seeing is everyday folks who meet someone on a dating website, and then, to further the relationship, agree to accept and transfer money. Almost every romance scam I see involves this moving around of money.
Just last week, I talked at length with a rural Clinton County woman about 60 years old; I’ll call her Jean. She carried on an online relationship with a man who said he worked on an oil rig in the Atlantic Ocean. Being on the oil rig made it difficult for him to manage his money, so he wanted help with that. Over a period of a couple of months, various people Jean didn’t know sent her money through Western Union and Moneygram, or electronically deposited it to her bank account. In turn, Jean sent this money to other people she did not know, mostly to Nigeria. We figured she received and transferred over $3,000 in this manner.
Jean is a money mule.
The FBI released very detailed tips on how to spot money muling and what to do about it. This is what they tell us:
Signs you may be acting as a money mule:
• You received an unsolicited email or contact over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
• The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook).
• You are asked to open up a bank account in your own name or in the name of a company you form to receive and transfer money.
• As an employee, you are asked to receive funds in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds” via a wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
• You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer.
• Your duties have no specific job description.
• Your online companion, whom you have never met in person, asks you to receive money and, subsequently, forward the funds to an individual you do not know.
How to protect yourself
• A legitimate company will not ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money. Do not accept any job offers that ask you to do this.
• Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company in order to open up a new bank account.
• Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you met them online.
• Be wary when job advertisements are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
• Be suspicious when the individual you met on a dating website wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.
• Perform online searches to check the information from any solicitation emails and contacts.
• Ask the employer, “Can you send a copy of the license/permit to conduct business in my county or state?”
How to Respond
• If you have received solicitations of this type, do not respond to them and do not click on any links they contain. Inform your local police or the FBI.
• If you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, stop transferring money immediately and notify your bank, the service you used to conduct the transaction, and law enforcement
• The FBI tells us the money moved by money mules comes from internet frauds and scams, drug trafficking, and even human trafficking. If you know of someone involved in this kind of situation, or see yourself here, get hold of me so we can get this turned around before it’s too late.
Contact Seniors vs. Crime
Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.