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Cybersafe February 28, 2022

Money Mules: An Overview of What They Are

Having a bank account is essential to our lives today. We use our accounts for various purposes such as to store savings, pay for our daily expenditures, keep our emergency funds, and even budget for things such as vacations and buying gadgets.


WIth the rise of online banking, conducting financial transactions has been easier than before. For example, we can send money to other people in just a second. Online banking has also made applying for services such as savings accounts and credit cards easier, with many banks allowing customers to apply online.


There are cases wherein people could get creative with online banking. Have you ever heard of people asking if they can borrow your bank account so that they can transfer money to other people? You may think this isn’t anything significant, like what could happen if you lend your bank account to others?


Harmless as it may look like, things could be different beneath the surface. Do you know that letting others use your bank account can make you an accomplice to a crime?


What is a money mule?


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the U.S., “a money mule is someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else.” Along the way, money mules receive a commission for transferring money to other accounts.


How are money mules recruited in the first place? Criminals go on social media to ask if anyone has unused bank accounts and if they can be borrowed. To incentivize people to lend these accounts, criminals will offer cash such as Php 5,000 or Php 10,000 to them.


Criminals can also post about job openings online, and the responsibilities merely include sitting on a computer at home and transferring money to different people and accounts.


A bank account that is being used by a money mule is called a mule account.


How do money mules assist criminals?


Money mules help criminals hide the money they obtained from illegal schemes, such as online scams, human trafficking, and drug trafficking. Given a large sum of money is involved, criminals hire money mules to transfer them to avoid raising suspicion from banks and government authorities. 


Banks and government authorities are consistently monitoring signs of money laundering, a crime involving concealing the source of illegally obtained money. A common sign of money laundering is when large transfers of money are taking place in a short period of time.


Criminals try to get around this by hiring money mules who will then transfer smaller amounts of money at a given time.


What should we do to avoid becoming a money mule?


Most of the time, a person hired to become a money mule is not even aware he/she is a money mule in the first place. That is because cybercriminals trick them by saying they will only use their bank account to receive a remittance from someone, or that lending a bank account can be a quick way to earn some money.


Even with how complex money muling is, it is actually simple to avoid being involved in this scheme: Never, ever let other people use your bank accounts. You should be the only one who gets to decide how to manage the money inside your account.


While there’s no law right now that directly punishes becoming a money mule, the police can still investigate you for assisting criminals with hiding their money. A law that money mules are potentially violating is the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.


Congress is also working to pass a law that will impose prison time on people involved in money muling, together with other social engineering schemes such as phishing. With government authorities increasingly cracking down on cybercrime, it will be a matter of time when all cybercriminals will be held accountable for their actions.