The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning about a new form of fraud that targets companies, schools and nonprofits around the United States.
According to the Associated Press, “money mules” are individuals who (often) unknowingly use their bank accounts to transfer funds for criminals. The FBI is especially concerned about the people who become involved in international money laundering schemes that result in large economic losses.
“They trial and error this stuff, and they see what works and they see what doesn’t,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Abbott. “It’s a much higher success rate when you have a lot of money using somebody else’s account going through there, instead of trying to cross the border with a physical transportation of cash.”
As a result, law enforcement agencies around the world have increased their efforts against money mule fraud. In fact, this month, Europol announced that it had identified 1,504 money mules, arresting 168. The FBI revealed in June the arrests of 74 people, and launched a publicity campaign called “Don’t Be a Mule.”
One example of the fraud, according to the FBI, was a criminal posing as an overseas Army captain, who recruited a man he met online to help him make plans to travel home by transferring money in and out of his bank account. The agency noted that $10,000 was wired into the man’s account, which he was instructed to withdraw in small increments and send to a woman in Texas.
Since the mules are often elderly, lonely or confused, the FBI usually gives them stern warnings and skips prosecution.
“When we approach them and talk to them, and explain to them what they’ve been doing, a lot of times, the horror is there,” said Steven D’Antuono, an FBI section chief who specializes in financial crimes. “It’s all walks of life, all educational levels. Anyone can fall victim to this.”