Money Mules

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A money mule, sometimes called a "smurfer", is a person who transfers money acquired illegally, such as through theft or fraud, on behalf of others. Money mules move funds in person, through courier services, or electronically. Typically, they are paid a small portion of the transferred money for their services.[1][2]

Money mules are often recruited online under the guise of legitimate employment opportunities, unaware that the money they are transferring is the proceeds of criminal activities. Similar techniques are used to transfer illegally obtained merchandise.

Recruitment and Operation[edit]

Commonly, money mules are recruited through job advertisements for positions like "payment processing agents", "money transfer agents", or "local processors". The real benefit to the criminals is not the work carried out by the mule, but the ability to distance themselves from the risky and visible transfer of funds.

Some money mules are recruited through online romance scams, where an attractive person convinces them to receive and forward money. After deducting a relatively small payment for themselves, the mules are asked to accept funds and forward them to a third party, often under the guise of remote work. Legitimate companies use escrow services for such transactions.

Money mules recruited online are typically used to transfer proceeds from online fraud schemes like phishing, malware scams, or auction site scams. After money or merchandise is stolen, the criminal employs a mule to transfer the funds or goods, hiding their true identity and location from the victim and authorities. By using instant payment mechanisms like Western Union, the mule allows the thief to transform a reversible and traceable transaction into an irreversible and untraceable one.

In some cases, an innocent third party's bank details are compromised and used as a mule without their knowledge, a tactic known as "Cuckoo smurfing". Criminals trading in stolen or illegally acquired goods also recruit mules to receive packages and forward them to untraceable mail drops.

Penalties[edit]

Money mules are complicit in criminal activities and risk prosecution and long jail sentences. In 2010, the FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force charged over 37 defendants involved in a highly organized money mule scheme facilitated by the Zeus Financial Trojan, which resulted in the theft of over $3 million from victim bank accounts.

To avoid becoming a money mule, individuals should never agree to receive or send money or packages for unknown parties, take jobs promising easy money involving money transfers, open bank or cryptocurrency accounts at someone else's direction, send money to online romantic interests, or pay to collect prizes or "winnings".[3][4][5][6][7]

References[edit]