NOTE: The following message is provided by Veronica Tubman, Senior Stakeholder Liaison for the F.B.I Baltimore Field Office. The opinions expressed are those of the author. AARP Maryland is sharing this information as a service to our members.
Fraudsters Prey on Emotions and Bank Accounts in Money Mule Schemes
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – The FBI Baltimore Field Office is warning potential victims of a rise in money mule schemes. A money mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts—often in different countries—on behalf of others.
This year, the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID) believes the general public is more susceptible to falling for money mule schemes because of an increase in opportunities for recruitment due to the surge in unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
From 2015 to 2019 reports of fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have more than tripled, going from $1.1 Billion to $3.5 Billion four years later. Much of this reported fraud has been enabled by money mules. Despite being the 19th most populous state, last year Maryland was ranked fifth in the country for the number of money mules behind only California, Texas, Florida, and New York.
As these numbers increase, 2020 is offering a new set of challenges including fraudsters preying on those looking to work from home, during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many non-essential companies are being forced to lay off workers or shut down completely during the pandemic, more “work from home” job opportunities are being advertised, even on reputable job sites. Once “hired,” employees may first be asked to perform a few easy COVID-19 related tasks, such as researching the current price of various hand sanitizers.
Eventually, the employer may ask you to accept a “donation” of funds into your own bank account or to open a new bank account in the name of a company to accept a deposit of funds. You are then asked to withdraw the funds in cash and deposit them into a Bitcoin ATM or “kiosk.” The so-called “donation” is money that has been stolen from others. Mules may also be asked to wire the deposited funds to another bank account or even to use the funds to purchase gift cards or other transferrable assets. Your acceptance and transfer of the stolen money could be considered a violation of Federal money laundering statutes, especially if the activity is prolonged or you keep any of the funds for yourself. Even if you do not personally profit, this illegal money mule activity could open you to criminal prosecution while the scammer gains access to the funds without being directly connected to the initial fraud.
Acting as a money mule—allowing others to use your bank account, or conducting financial transactions on behalf of others, jeopardizes your financial security and compromises your personally identifiable information. Protect yourself by refusing to send or receive money on behalf of individuals and businesses for which you are not personally and professionally responsible.
Signs You May Be Acting as a Money Mule
How to Protect Yourself
How to Respond
Learn more about money mules and help raise awareness by sharing the facts through #DontBeAMule.
This story is provided by AARP Maryland. Visit the AARP Maryland page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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