Sometimes a scam can be so crafty a victim may have no idea that they have been duped, or even worse, served as a key player in assisting illegal activity. The financial mule scam often plays out in this manner, but ignorance is certainly not bliss for the victims.
Financial mules, also known as money mules, are people who are used to transport and/or launder money derived from illegal activity (i.e. the sale of illicit drugs, proceeds of fraudulent activity, etc.).
The term ‘mule’ refers to someone who moves something for someone else, usually illegally. A money mule is someone who allows their personal financial accounts to be used to move the proceeds of a crime, which is also known as money laundering. Individuals used as money mules may be willing participants or may not even be aware that they are being used to move funds derived from illegal activity.
This scam comes to fruition in a few different forms. This could be:
- A seemingly legitimate job posting that offers applicants a high payout for small amounts of work.
- Receiving a message on social media from a “friend” asking for a quick favor.
- Being approached online unexpectedly with an offer to make easy money for the upcoming holidays, school year, etc.
No matter the initial guise, the scam always leads to the target being asked to receive money into their bank account and transferring it to a third party. Many money mules are eager to assist because they believe that they are helping a friend in need, or that they have found a comfortable part-time job that will pay a small commission of each transaction. These of course are not legitimate situations and instead the facades recruit innocent people to act as money mules which facilitate criminal activity and make illegally acquired money harder to trace.
Even if money mules are not directly involved in the crimes which generate the money, they are acting illegally by helping to launder the proceeds. Money mules help criminals move funds and remain anonymous while doing so.
Anyone caught acting as a money mule, even if done so unknowingly, can face a prison sentence, fine or community service, and the possibility of never again being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.
Remember, you should never send money for any of the following circumstances:
- In response to an online advertisement about a “work from home” job opportunity.
- Per the request of a social media message.
- As a way of making extra income.
- With the claim that you will receive a commission on the total amount being sent.
- To someone you have not met in person
Personal details such as tax file numbers or financial account information should be protected and never shared with strangers online. If you ever find yourself caught up in a scheme of this nature, report it immediately by notifying your financial institution and your local law enforcement.
For more information on how detect and to prevent money muling, please visit these third-party resources.
United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS): https://www.uspis.gov/news/scam-article/money-mule
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/money-mules
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/whats-money-mule-scam
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to one of these scams and sent money using Western Union, report it immediately by calling your country-specific fraud hotline at /global-service/report-fraud-hotline.
Find more information on fraud and scams and how to protect yourself at wu.com/fraudawareness.