Muncy Bank strives to keep our community financially safe. In an effort to protect our customers, we’re providing the following information regarding the money mule scam and how to avoid becoming a target.
Last year, in an effort to protect our customers, we published an article outlining seven common COVID 19 scams. Since then, financial insecurity and social isolation relating to the pandemic have resulted in increased vulnerability to financial fraud. Money mule scams are on the rise, and the FBI has created the #DontBeAMule campaign to help combat this issue. Muncy Bank strives to keep our community financially safe. In an effort to protect our customers, we’re providing the following information regarding the money mule scam and how to avoid becoming a target.
What is a money mule scam?
A money mule is a person that transfers money through their personal bank accounts at the request of someone else. An electronic form of money laundering, this process makes it hard for law enforcement to trace illegal funds gained from scams, internet fraud, drug trafficking, and human trafficking. Individuals that participate as money mules are either witting or unwitting. Witting participants either know that they are handling illegal funds for a criminal element or blindly ignore red flags alerting them to illegal activity. Unwitting participants in the scam are lured under false pretenses and are unaware of the criminal intent. As far as the law is concerned, both witting and unwitting money mules can be prosecuted.
How Do Money Mule Scams Work
A money mule scam starts with you opening a new bank account at the behest of another person. By using your personal information, the scammer avoids raising any criminal red flags in the banking system. The scammer then sends you money to deposit into this new account. Many money mules are compensated for their participation with a cut or commission from the money transfer. The scammer provides you exact details about how and where to transfer their funds out of your account. They could ask you to simply pull the money out as cash, transfer it to a third party, or purchase virtual currency such as Bitcoin. By running the money through your personal account, you are laundering that money and removing traces of its criminal history.
Who is at risk?
As unemployment numbers rose during the COVID pandemic, many people sought extra income through online job posting and “work from home” ads. Unfortunately, some of the businesses offering employment were actually recruiting individuals to open bank accounts and move illegal money. Many students and employment-seekers fell for this scam.
The popularity of dating websites has also increased the number of unwitting money mules. In this situation, unsuspecting singles begin an online relationship with a stranger. Once the stranger has the individual’s trust, they express the need for a money transfer. The fraudsters are highly skilled at creating plausible-sounding stories that explain the need for the money transfer, and many victims never suspect foul play.
Seniors are often targeted by fraudsters posing as a family member or someone pleading for their compassion. Many scammers pretend to be stuck overseas and need to wire money through an account to a friend in the United States in order to get home. If you know a senior who has been victimized by fraud, please call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).
Students, singles, and seniors aren’t the only people that act as money mules. The truth is, everyone is at risk for fraud. Even if you don’t fall into one of the categories detailed above, be on the lookout for signs of a scam.
Signs of a money mule scam
The following are red flags that someone is trying to scam you. If you believe you are the target of a money mule scam, notify law enforcement. You should report suspicious activity to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and contact your local FBI field office. Some common signs of fraud include:
- Receiving an unsolicited email or social media messages that promise pay for little or no effort
- Job services that use web-based email services (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook, etc.) rather than an official company website
- Requests to open a bank account and transfer money
- Being asked to receive funds in your bank account and then process or transfer funds via wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram)
- Incentives to keep a portion of the money you transfer
- Online contacts that ask you to receive money and then forward these funds to individuals you do not know
What are the consequences?
According to the FBI, acting as a money mule can affect your financial future and even lead to incarceration. Crimes that money mules can be charged with include:
- Mail fraud
- Wire fraud
- Bank fraud
- Money laundering
- Aggravated identity theft
When you engage in these activities, even unwittingly, you risk your own personal information being stolen and used illegally. If it’s proven that you have acted as a money mule, you may be responsible for repaying the money that was part of the scam. Your involvement can also lead to frozen assets, damage to your credit score, and a permanently scarred financial reputation.
How to protect yourself from becoming a money mule
The best way to protect yourself from any online scam is to remain skeptical of anyone asking you for personal or financial information online. You can protect yourself from becoming the victim of a money mule scam by following these tips from the FBI.
- Check the legitimacy of any company that offers you a job
- A legitimate company will not ask you to use your own bank account to transfer money
- Be skeptical if an employer or acquaintance asks you to open up a new bank account
- Be suspicious if anyone asks to use your bank account to receive and forward money
If you believe you are a victim of a money mule scam, stop communicating with the scammers right away. Immediately notify your bank or any payment provider that you have been using to move money. Report the situation to the Federal Trade Commission and contact your local FBI field office.
Protecting our community
During the COVID pandemic, the United States has seen an increase in online bank scams. The best way to protect yourself online is to stay informed and keep your personal information secure. Social security numbers and bank accounts should never be shared with online acquaintances. To learn more about the money mule scam, visit the FBI’s dedicated money mule website. At Muncy Bank, we take the financial security of our customers very seriously. If you have any questions about the safety or security of your Muncy Bank checking and savings accounts, please contact us. Together, we’ll work to protect our community from financial scammers.