With the rise of cyber-enabled crime, international organised crime groups need to utilise a variety of methods to launder their vast illicit profits. One common strategy 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, in order to withdraw the money and in most cases transfer it overseas, receiving a commission in return for the provided services.
EUROPOL, who claims that over 90% of money mule transactions are linked to cybercrime such as malware and online fraud, sheds some light on money muling, including how money mules are recruited and who is targeted.
What are the implications of being a money mule?
Although money mules are not directly involved in the crimes which generate illicit profits, they are acting illegally by laundering the proceeds of crime, and therefore facilitating the operations of international criminal syndicates.
Penalties for acting as a money mule can range from a fine to a prison sentence, as well as the prospect of being prohibited from securing a mortgage or opening a bank account.
How are money mules recruited?
Organised crime groups utilise a number of methods to recruit money mules:
- Seemingly legitimate job ads (e.g. ‘money transfer agents’)
- Direct approach in person or through email
- Social media (e.g. Facebook posts on closed groups)
- Messages sent through instant messaging apps (e.g. Whatsapp)
Who do criminal groups target?
In recruiting money mules, criminal groups tend to target people who fit one or more of the following characteristics:
- Recently arrived to the country
- In economic distress
Men are more likely than women to be targeted, as are those aged 18-34.
How to spot a money muling solicitation
Organised crime groups try to recruit vulnerable people with the promise of significant earning potential for very little effort. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some of the warning signs include:
- Ads stating that an overseas company is 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.
- An advertised position does not list education or experience requirements, does not list specific duties, or lists duties such as ‘transferring money or goods’
- Use of poor grammar in communications
- Emails sent from a web-based service such as Gmail or Hotmail, instead of an organisation-based domain
What to do if you suspect you are a target of money muling
Organised crime groups have become increasingly sophisticated in their money muling recruitment operations, often copying a genuine company’s website and using a similar web address to make the scam seem authentic.
EUROPOL provides some steps to follow to protect yourself:
- Be cautious of unsolicited emails or approaches over social media promising opportunities to make easy money, especially from people or companies overseas
- Verify any company that makes you a job offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct
- Never give your bank account or any other personal details to anyone you don’t know and trust
- Do not respond to suspicious emails or click on any links they contain