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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2019 > Learn the Red Flags: Don’t Become a Money Mule

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Learn the Red Flags: Don’t Become a Money Mule

Some scammers rely on money mules to transfer money and avoid being detected. A money mule is someone who – often unwittingly – is recruited to launder money. Often the money laundering is based on a business or romantic relationship the money mule has with the scammer, who may be posing as a legitimate businessperson, employer or love interest. The money mule is being used to help the scammer commit fraud, so it is important to know the red flags and stay away from any unlawful and fraudulent activities.
Money mules are often recruited under the guise of “work from home” jobs. In a fact sheet called “Understanding and Protecting Yourself Against Money Mule Scams,” the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) named eight warning signs that include commonly used tactics by scammers soliciting for money mules:
  •  The position involves transferring money or goods.
  •  The specific job duties are not described.
  •  The company is located in another country.
  •  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 writing is awkward and includes poor sentence structure.
  •  The email address associated with the offer uses a web-based service (Gmail, Yahoo!, Windows Live Hotmail, etc.) instead of an organization-based domain.
Money mules are often recruited through online employment, dating, social networking and classified advertisement websites. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), money mules “help criminals and criminal organizations launder their proceeds derived from criminal activities, by adding layers of recipients to the money trail. These layers complicate and negatively impact the FBI’s ability to accurately trace the money from a specific victim to a criminal actor.”
Before considering opportunities to earn money, be sure to research the potential job online using the subject line of the email solicitation, the name of the organization offering the job, and either the name of the person who supposedly sent the email or the contact name associated with the opportunity. The Better Business Bureau can also be a valuable online resource during your research.
In its article “Don’t Be A Mule,” the FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture and Bank Fraud Unit provides the following indicators that you may be 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 services such as (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, 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 variety of means to include: wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (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 these funds to an individual you do not know.
If caught, a money mule could receive jail time and be forced to repay victims through law enforcement and the justice system. The schemes can also ruin the money mule’s credit and his or her ability to open bank accounts. Money mules also might reveal personal information to the scammers, which could result in identity theft.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.