Money Mule Scams: How To Protect Yourself
Table of Contents
- By Emmett
- Jun 17, 2022
While we need the internet for everything from entertainment to employment, it undoubtedly exposes us to a number of harmful scams. Falling prey to an online scammer can put your personal information at risk, which can have many severe repercussions. One of the more common scams you should be looking for could be happening right under your nose, and you might not even know it. This nefarious scheme is known as the money mule scam.
What is a Money Mule Scam?
When criminals make money from illegal activities, they can’t just spend it like a regular paycheck. In order to hide the origin of their ill-gotten cash, they need to “launder” it through a separate source. A money mule scam involves tricking a third party into transferring illegally obtained money to obscure its original source. Some victims aren’t even aware they are helping move illegal funds. Unfortunately, ignorance doesn’t necessarily protect them from legal trouble later on.
Criminals will contact you through a variety of mediums, almost always using assumed identities or spoofing accounts to appear like friends and family. These messages can come from a number of sources, both online and offline, including:
Money Mule Examples
A money mule scam will usually target those who are desperate for cash or less likely to discover they are assisting with a money-laundering scheme. This includes students with high amounts of debt, the unemployed, and the elderly. Scammers will approach these individuals online, offering them money if they send and receive payments on behalf of a “business.” In some cases, the criminals may even ask for bank credentials to perform these transactions on their own.
Look for these signs when identifying a money mule scammer:
- Anyone asking for your bank credentials.
- A person who offers you digital currency or gift cards, then asks you to transfer them elsewhere.
- You apply for a business that asks for account details, but you can’t find any evidence of legitimacy.
- A person asking to open a bank account in your name.
- Jobs that offer large sums of money for simple money transferring tasks.
- Messages you receive are poorly constructed, often including significant issues with syntax, grammar, and spelling.
- A person you’ve met through an online dating service or app, but never seen in person, asks you to send them or someone else money.
How to Protect Yourself
Whether it's a money mule scam or any other type of cybercrime, the most important step is to never reveal personal information. This includes your full legal name, phone number, address, and any login credentials for your online accounts. Scammers will pretend to be loved ones, co-workers, or those in need of help just to acquire your sensitive data. If you’ve already provided information to someone and believe they may be a scammer, run an identity threat scan. This free tool can help you see whether your information has been leaked and who may have access to it.
If you believe you have been a victim of a money mule scam, immediately cease all contact with the criminals involved. You’ll want to contact your bank and stop all pending transfers, and changing login credentials if you’ve provided them to the scammers. After that, you’ll have to contact your local law enforcement agency to report the crime. Even if you aren’t 100% sure that you’ve been a part of a scam, it's always better to be safe than sorry; every second you wait is more damage these scammers can do to you and other victims of fraud.
Never Transfer Money for Someone You Don’t Know
Unless you are certain that the person you are interacting with is a member of your friends or family, never transfer anything of monetary value. This includes:
- Physical items
- Prize money
- Digital assets
If you money mule for a criminal and are caught, there are significant legal consequences. You will usually be subject to hefty fines and, in some cases even jail time. Even if you don’t get caught by police, there is a huge ethical issue to assisting criminals. The money you are being asked to transfer was likely obtained by defrauding citizens just like you. If you help launder it, you are increasing the chances they will never receive restitution or justice.
It's always better to be safe than sorry. If someone contacts you asking to help them transfer money, or they want your account details, ignore them or report the message as spam. If you see a job offer that's too good to be true or a romantic interest with a shady background, always err on the side of caution. If you don’t, you could find yourself losing thousands of dollars, or even behind bars.