Online frauds have become as common as hacking attacks, and in a lot of recent cases, scammers were targeting schools, companies, and nonprofit organizations. Cases such as these have become an often occurrence in the US and Europe, but they are also present in other parts of the world.
A lot of these scams are a part of money laundering schemes, and law enforcement officials are now moving against them via a combination of public awareness and prosecution.
According to officials, one of the most common trends is to use ‘money mules,’ which refers to people who, most of the time unknowingly, move significant amounts of money via their own accounts, on behalf of scammers. The term ‘mule’ came from the tale of a horticulturist who smuggled cocaine for Mexican cartels. While today’s money mules are typically unaware of the scam and often believe that they are doing something good, they are still a part of the problem.
Such schemes are responsible for considerable economic losses which can destabilize the economy, and according to the FBI , they show no signs of stopping anytime soon. According to the FBI supervisory special agent, James Abbott, these scams are becoming perfected through trial and error. They tend to send large amounts of money by using gullable individuals instead of transporting it personally or using their own bank accounts.
Now, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies around the world have increased their efforts to prevent fraud . According to recent reports, these agencies are currently building much bigger cases, and Europol identified over 1,500 money mules in this month alone. It also arrested around 168 of them, across the continent. The FBI made a similar move in June, when it arrested 74 individuals, 29 of which were in Nigeria.
Reports also mention a different variety of methods used to trick individuals into sending large amounts of money, including claims that relatives of victims require bail money, or that people have won the lottery, and that they can claim it by sending an advance payment. Sometimes, scammers even go as far as to assume the identity of the victim’s executive, and scam companies’ employees. A similar incident occurred in Texas-based firm in 2016 when an employee was instructed by their alleged superior to send a $100,000 payment to a particular vendor.
Weeks later, the CEO of the company was contacted by the FBI to request information about the payment, and notify the executive of the scam. As a result of the investigation, one individual with dual citizenship (US-Nigerian) was arrested and sentenced to a four-year-long prison term.
When it comes to money mules, they are sometimes believed to be aware of the scam, but they are persuaded to go through with it. Scammers can sometimes promise a cut of the funds, or resort to tricks and lies, whatever they decide will work best. One case has seen a man receiving $10,000 to his main account, with instructions to send it in small amounts to a woman in Texas.
Cases vary from the mules being elderly, lonely, or confused — to them being perfectly aware of what is going on, and actively participating in the process. The FBI’s section chief who specializes in financial crimes, Steven D’Antuono, stated that many of the mules express horror after they were approached and explained that they were a part of the scam. This proves that anyone can become a victim, knowingly or not.