Securing Our Communities: Money Mule Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

Money mule scams are phony employment opportunities that criminals advertise to recruit individuals to launder money obtained through illicit activity. People who accept these opportunities are called money mules. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, money mules assist criminals in transferring funds derived from phone or Internet-enabled fraud scams, drug trafficking, human trafficking, or other crimes. Ultimately, money mules help criminals obscure trails of financial transactions and perpetuate illegal activity.

Scammers recruit money mules in numerous ways. They frequently post job opportunities on classified ad websites, social networking platforms, or job search websites. These posts often advertise “work from home” opportunities that require minimal effort and pay commission-based salaries. Scammers may also propose business ventures to individuals they have established relationships with via online dating platforms. They may disguise employment as legitimate opportunities to “process payments” for entities such as charities or import/export firms. No matter how they scout their new hires, scammers almost always depict these opportunities as an easy way to earn income by simply opening a bank account, receiving funds, and forwarding them elsewhere.

Money mule jobs are never as harmless as scammers portray them. Often the funds that money mules transfer are earnings from fraudulent schemes such as grandparent scams, romance scams, IRS scams, technical support scams, or other swindles. Scammers instruct money mules to forward funds to third parties either through wire transfers, cashier’s checks, or cryptocurrencies, or by withdrawing cash and mailing it or delivering it in person. By performing these actions, money mules enable criminal money laundering networks and allow scammers to profit from others’ misfortunes. There are serious implications for participating in schemes that aid criminals in concealing illegal activity and money mules may face consequences for engaging in this activity. They may be banned by their financial institutions from opening future bank accounts, their credit scores may be impacted, or they may have their personally identifiable information stolen by the same scammers who employed them. Money mules may even face criminal charges, be held personally responsible for repaying funds lost by victims, or be imprisoned.

Money mule scams, often advertised as attractive and lucrative employment opportunities, are dangerous propositions for job seekers. The NTIC Cyber Center recommends reviewing the following strategies for identifying and avoiding them:

  • Beware of employment listings that lack specific job descriptions, include vague details about the nature of the work, or advertise easy ways to make money with minimal effort.

  • Beware of employers, individuals from online dating platforms, or anyone else who asks you to use your own bank account – or to open a new bank account – to receive and forward money.

  • Beware of employers who communicate via web-based email clients such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, ProtonMail, or Outlook webmail and not via an official organization’s email domain.

  • Research the person or company offering a position before doing business with them or providing them with any personal or financial information.

If you believe you may have received a solicitation to act as a money mule, consider filing a report with your local law enforcement entity and with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.