Becoming a money mule may sound like something that only happens in the movies, but it can happen to anyone — sometimes without even realizing it. Being educated about how criminals use and recruit money mules can help you avoid unknowingly aiding criminal activity.
What Is a Money Mule?
The FBI defines a money mule as a person who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another. Criminals often use online tools, such as job postings, social media, dating websites, and phishing emails to recruit money mules. They attempt to gain a victim’s trust before convincing them to move large sums of money. The money involved may be obtained through fraud, theft, or other scams and could also be tied to drug trafficking and human trafficking. Money mules are often promised a commission for providing assistance.
“Money mules are criminals, but they are often victims of larger criminal enterprises,” said Michelle Schaefer, AVP/Retail Advisor. “The biggest thing to remember is that if someone is asking you to move large sums of money, it’s OK to be suspicious, even if you think you can trust the person who is making the request.”
Red Flags That You Are Being Asked to Be a Money Mule
According to the FBI, the following activities could be signs that you are being asked to serve as a money mule.
- Someone you don’t know contacts you over email or social media, promising a way to earn money for little to no effort.
- You receive a job offer from an employer who uses web-based email services such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail.
- You are asked to receive money in your personal bank account, then transfer the money to another source.
Criminals who recruit money mules may also prey on your charitable sensibilities. The FBI cites one example of a woman who met a man on an online dating site who claimed to work for a charity. He asked her to receive money for his charity and transfer it to other accounts.
How to Protect Yourself
As with any scams, the No. 1 rule is to be suspicious. Legitimate companies will never ask you to use your own bank account to transfer money. If someone is asking you to move money around for them, it’s best to cut off all ties to that person. Some other red flags to consider:
- Emails that contain vague job offers that are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
- Someone you’ve never met in person asks you for personal financial account information
- Any requests to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money
If you receive a request of this sort and you are unsure if it is legitimate, you should search online to see if you can find records that indicate the business is not fraudulent. You can also ask the person making the request to send a copy of their license/permit to conduct business in your state. If you suspect you are being asked to act as a money mule, you should contact local law enforcement or the FBI immediately.
Download the FBI’s Money Mule Awareness Booklet. You can find it by searching “Money Mule Awareness Booklet” at www.fbi.gov.