The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is warning financial institutions of an increase in schemes to recruit individuals to receive and transmit unauthorized electronic funds transfers (EFTs) from deposit accounts to individuals overseas. These funds transfer agents, often referred to as “money mules,” are typically solicited on the Internet by criminals who have gained unauthorized access to the online deposit account of a business or consumer. In a typical scenario, the criminal will originate unauthorized EFTs from a victim’s account to a money mule’s deposit account. The money mule is then instructed to quickly withdraw the funds and wire them overseas after deducting a “commission” (commonly eight to ten percent).
Criminals target online deposit accounts at institutions where business customers can originate EFTs, such as automated clearing house (ACH) and wire transfers, over the Internet. Money mules, however, can be customers at any depository institution where EFTs can be received and funds withdrawn. In some cases, the money mule may be an unknowing accomplice in a fraud scheme. Because EFTs are often made immediately available by the receiving institution, funds may be removed and wire transferred overseas before the fraud is detected. Refer to SA-147-2009 for more information on fraudulent EFT schemes.
Money mule schemes can take many different forms, but most involve receiving unauthorized EFTs into a deposit account and then withdrawing the funds or forwarding them on to another party via another EFT. The following are common scenarios:
- Online job posting Web sites are used by criminals to locate individuals seeking employment with flexible work hours that can be performed from home. These work-at-home schemes often involve written employment contracts, job descriptions and procedures to legitimize the scam.
- Advance fee scams promising large monetary rewards for acting as a financial intermediary can entice individuals to participate in this activity.
- Mystery shopping jobs may be used that require the employee to assess the performance of money service businesses by completing EFTs and then evaluating the service using customer satisfaction forms.
- Social networking sites may be used to recruit individuals to act as money mules. Criminals conjure up various imaginative stories to befriend and persuade individuals to receive and forward stolen funds.
- Some hesitant or skeptical money mules have been intimidated, harassed and threatened by their criminal “employers” to process the funds transfers quickly and with secrecy.
- The personal identifiable information provided by the money mule might later be used to commit identity theft or account takeover.