What’s a Money Mule?

A number of credit unions have reported that their members are being recruited as money mules by fraudsters. Money mules unknowingly assist fraudsters in laundering stolen funds. The source of the stolen funds received by the money mules is often from account takeovers at other financial institutions through online banking systems.

Money Mule Recruitment

Money mules are most often recruited through bogus job offers for payment processors, financial managers, or overseas representatives. Fraudsters typically find their potential money mules by searching websites where job seekers post their resumes. A key consideration in accepting the position is the ability to work from home. Upon accepting the job, the money mules are notified they will receive deposits to their accounts via ACH and/or wire transfer. In some cases, the money mules are instructed to open an account at a financial institution in order to receive the funds. The mules are instructed to not share details of their new job with anyone. Upon receipt of the funds, the mules are instructed to either wire the funds to an account at another financial institution (foreign and domestic) or send the funds to individuals via Western Union. The money mules keep a portion of the funds deposited to their accounts as wages.

A Real Life Example

In one case, a credit union member was recruited to assist a foreign company in purchasing heavy construction equipment. The fraudsters deposited the stolen funds to the member’s account via wire transfer. The member even received a bogus purchase invoice for the equipment from the fraudsters. The member was instructed to wire the funds to the equipment manufacturer’s account, which turned out to be a fraudulent account opened by the fraudsters. The deposits made to the money mule accounts via ACH and/or wire transfer were actually stolen from deposit accounts at other financial institutions and investment accounts held at brokerage firms. Using sophisticated banking Trojans, such as Zeus, fraudsters steal the login credentials of online banking users and investors who access their investment accounts online. The fraudster logs into the account and transfers funds via ACH and/or wire transfer to the money mules’ accounts.

Other Ways Victims are Recruited

The money mules are recruited through means other than bogus jobs. Fraudsters often find their victims by searching online dating websites. The victim’s new-found love fabricates a story to dupe the victim into laundering stolen funds. In a common scam, a fraudster located overseas claims to have a friend in the United States and wants the friend to fly overseas for a visit; however, the friend cannot transfer money overseas to purchase the ticket. The lovelorn victim agrees to help his/her new-found love and receives a deposit to his/her account with instructions to wire the funds overseas.
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