What is a money mule?
Simply, a money mule is somebody who transfers the proceeds of crime on behalf of someone else.
Money mules are everyday people, and can be willing participants or completely unaware that what they’re doing is wrong. Regardless of their awareness, transferring the proceeds of crime on behalf of someone else, makes the person complicit in the crime, and they can be prosecuted.
How do people become mules?
There are a few types of money mules:
Helping someone out
Most commonly, mules are people transferring money on behalf of their friends; this might be a new friend, or an old friend, but the story is usually the same; the friend’s bank has held one of their payments, their bank takes a long time to transfer, or their friend is stuck overseas and needs a bit of cash to help them out of a jam; Sometimes the friend will even claim to have been kidnapped.
Romance scams are a common way of recruiting mules. Criminals will build relationships with people via online dating platforms, building trust to such a high level that they are happy to help them out with transferring money for their new long-distance partner. Be wary of any online-dating relationships where you have not met in person, especially if the other person is overseas, or if they are in/from a country with high associations with child exploitation material such as Mexico, Thailand, or the Philippines. Romance scam mules have been directly used in the past to help fund online child abuse.
Being tricked into it
A popular method of recruiting mules is via fake job ads, these might be via messaging platforms like telegram or whatsapp; or can even be on legitimate job sites like Seek.com.au. The criminals will pretend to set you up with an accounting or finance-related role, and may even go to the lengths of multiple interview rounds; though most often the job is very easy to get, and you might get offered it without even applying!
The job involves you having to transfer money for the business from one place to another, except rather than using a business account, they ask you to transfer via your own account because it’s “easier”.
Social media influencers, and “finfluencers” will rave about a new easy way of making money and encourage you to message them to find out more. They will talk about a loophole, or a service that helps you make money by performing tasks like transferring money or converting crypto for people who don’t have the same access to these services.
Some people will seek out these tasks as they can be very profitable; especially to those having trouble getting employment, or even those just not interested in getting regular employment.
How does being a money mule work?
Generally, the aim is to transfer value from the proceeds of the crime, to the criminals without being traceable. Some common examples of the process are:
- Victim falls for a facebook marketplace scam
- The scammer receives the money from the victim directly into a pre-arranged mule’s personal account.
- The scammer sends the mule (who thinks they work for the accounts department of a business) a copy of an invoice and tells them to allocate the funds to the business account.
- These funds arrive to another mule’s account, who is told to use these funds to purchase bitcoin and send to an external wallet.
- The scammer then exchanges the crypto via a P2P exchange, then withdraws fiat via a regulated exchange, ready to be spent, almost completely untraceable to the original crime, with two “innocent third parties” most likely to be reported as the criminals.
Why is being a money mule bad?
If you’re just transferring money for someone, what’s the problem? Many people struggling financially may be tempted to take up one of these offers, even if they have an inkling it doesn’t seem completely above board. Even when they know it might be something illegal, people will generally downplay their concerns and legitimise it by associating it with minor crimes.
Unfortunately, any criminal enterprise that makes money uses money mules. This includes drug trafficking; fraud and theft; child sex exploitation; people trafficking and slavery. All of these crimes happen all over the world, including Australia. The funds being transferred by these mules might be a few steps down the ladder, but are the proceeds of horrific crimes and are payments to people that seek to profit off them.
If you are transferring money on behalf of someone else, you could be helping the proliferation of dangerous drugs throughout the community or giving paedophiles access to harm children.
Some tips that you have been, or might be getting recruited to be a mule
- You’ve been offered a job you didn’t apply for
- You are approached on social media, or a messaging platform to help someone out, or to be involved in an “opportunity”
- Someone has asked you to transfer money, or purchase crypto on their behalf (ask yourself, why aren’t they doing it themselves, and does their answer actually make sense? It’s against most banks and crypto exchanges’ policies to transact on someone else’s behalf, so why are they doing it?)
- Someone is asking you to help them out by sending money to them, be extra suspicious if its only possible internationally or via crypto
- Your bank or crypto exchange is telling you that you might be victim of a scam; surprisingly, most money mules and victims of scams ignore this advice!
- Someone instructs you to open a bank account in your own name to receive payments for forwarding on. There is almost never a legitimate reason for you to do this.
I didn’t realise, but I think I might have become a mule, what do I do?
Law enforcement know how emotionally manipulative these criminals can be, and understand that mules are not always aware of what they are doing.
If you are transferring money on behalf of a friend, acquaintance, employer, or even family member, stop immediately, and contact your bank, crypto exchange, or whichever institution you are transferring funds through. These institutions have dedicated, trained members of staff that can let you know if you might be being exploited as a money mule and what to do. If you’ve already received and spent money that you received from helping them out, this does not mean its too late. The sooner you report it, the less likely you are to be held responsible.