Cybercriminals often hire someone else to do their dirty work. One common role is a "money mule," a person who transfers money between bank accounts, buying goods on behalf of another party, or even stealing information.
The term was coined when it became popular among drug traffickers looking to launder money. However, today's cybercriminal uses money mules in many ways. For example, some steal credit card numbers while others buy items like computers or software using stolen credentials. In other cases, money mules help pay ransom demands made by attackers. Typically, the mule is paid for services with a percent of the money transferred.
In the case of cybercrime, money mules can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
Hiring hackers or malware developers
Paying off victims after they have been infected with ransomware
Buying stolen data from compromised servers
Stealing funds from online banking accounts
Cybercriminals often hire money mules through an intermediary known as a “money broker."
Money mules can move funds in various ways, including through bank accounts, cashier’s checks, virtual currency, prepaid debit cards, or money service businesses. Some money mules know they are supporting criminal enterprises; others are unaware that they are helping criminals profit.
What are the Consequences?
Acting as a money mule is illegal and punishable, even if you aren’t aware you’re committing a crime. If you are a money mule, you could be prosecuted and incarcerated as part of a criminal money laundering conspiracy. Some of the federal charges you could face include mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.
Serving as a money mule can also damage your credit and financial standing. Additionally, you risk having your own personally identifiable information stolen and used by the criminals you are working for, and you may be held personally liable for repaying money lost by victims.
Who is at Risk?
Criminals often target students, those looking for work, or those on dating websites, but anyone can be approached to be a money mule.
What are the signs?
Work-from-Home Job Opportunities
You received an unsolicited email or social media message that promises easy money for little or no effort.
The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email services (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook, etc.).
You are asked to open 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” or “transfer” funds via: wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer.
Your duties have no specific job description.
Dating and Social Media Sites
An online contact or companion, whom you have never met in person, asks you to receive money and then forward these funds to one or more individuals you do not know.
How do I protect myself from this scam?
Perform online searches to check the legitimacy of any company that offers you a job.
Do not accept any job offers that ask you to use your own bank account to transfer money. A legitimate company will not ask you to do this.
Be wary if an employer asks you to form a company to open up a new bank account.
Be suspicious if an individual you met on a dating website wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.
Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you met them online.