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Become a Money Mule and You'll Be Saddled with Problems

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Strange things can happen when someone is over-eager or even desperate to find work, or to come up with a way to make some money. In today's world, many people go searching for solutions online.

It's when you're looking for work opportunities on the Internet that you might accidently walk right into a trap—a fraudulent scheme or job that can cost you money, pride and much more.

You could, for instance, find yourself becoming a money mule—that's a name and a role that you don't want be saddled with.

A beast of a burden.

A money mule is a person who is involved in transferring money for someone else—money that is typically illegal and part of criminal activity. (If you think of mules carrying saddlebags of money or gold up a hill during the Gold Rush, you get the idea of where the term comes from.)

There are certainly many money mules who know they're involved with illegal activity. Just like drug mules who knowingly stash cocaine and such in suitcases or strange objects and try to sneak them through airports, there are plenty of money mules willing to help crooks move cash around for payments in goods or cash.

However, it's common for someone to become a money mule quite by accident.

And that's why you must be careful and protect your friends and loved ones, too.

What kind of work do mules do?

Some money mules recruited online are typically used to transfer cash that's changing hands from phishing scams, malware scams, or commercial scams that revolve around auction sites like Craigslist or eBay. Here's what the mule does:

  • After money or merchandise has been stolen, the mastermind behind the scenes uses a mule to transfer the money or goods, hiding the real criminal's identity, location and involvement from the victim of the crime and the authorities.
  • The real crook will oftentimes have the mule use Western Union or a Money Gram to make a traceable transaction or a reversible traceable into an "irreversible and untraceable" one.

Typically, the mule is told he'll be paid for services with a small part of the money transferred. That is, unless the mule is himself duped into doing it for free, not realizing what's going on until it's too late.

The Department of Homeland Security reports that too often today, money mules are recruited on-line for what they think is legitimate employment—but little do they know that they're getting involved transferring money that is a byproduct of crime, and therefore getting involved in the criminal activity themselves.

"WANTED. Dumbass for mule work."

One day, someone you know might be excited about finally getting a new job they found online, a job with an interesting title such as mystery shopper, payment processing agent, or money transfer agent.

But it's not a real job at all. It's typically a "work-from-home" recruiting scheme run by criminals to herd a pack of money mules. Work-from-home mule schemes are cleverly created to look like a job for a legitimate company. The herders will steal trademarks, logos and company names to took legitimate.

  • The job will require the "new hire" to first accept money into their own bank account, and then transfer it from their account to a different bank account, typically in another country. (A similar technique is often used to transfer illegal merchandise from illegal sellers to buyers, with a mule doing the delivery.)
  • As part of their "onboarding" for the job, the new-hire (the money mule) provides their bank account details. They don't know it at the time, but solely it's for receiving a deposit or maybe even a counterfeit check.

Now, the bad news.

It's common for a money mule to never see a paycheck or a commission they thought they were going to earn. Even worse, there's the chance of being arrested for being part of a crime, even though the mule didn't know what was going on. (Think of driving a stolen car but not knowing it was stolen.)

A money mule could also wind up being a victim of identity theft, because the criminals have information from their "job" application: home address, phone number, and perhaps, even a Social Security number.

Advice from Uncle Sam.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), part of the Department of Homeland Security, has examined the problem revolving around false job postings that are recruiting sites for money mules. They have provided the following warning signs of mule recruitment:

  • The position involves transferring money or goods.
  • The specific job duties are not described.
  • The company is in another country.
  • The position does not list education or experience requirements.
  • All interactions and transactions will be done online.
  • The offer promises significant earning potential for little effort.
  • The writing is awkward and includes poor sentence structure.
  • The email address associated with the offer uses a Web-based service (Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live, Hotmail, etc.) instead of an organization-based domain.

You can get more advice on avoiding online criminal schemes from the US-CERT website.

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