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Avoiding the Money Mule Trap

Once criminals have stolen funds from a vulnerable adult, they may try to enlist their victim in a form of money laundering, which is illegal and potentially dangerous. It’s important to educate adults about money mule patterns and behaviors so they can recognize the signs and keep themselves safe.

Predators may enlist victims to launder money, electronic equipment, gift cards and other items in many situations. Common tactics / schemes include:

  • Work at home schemes – Victims answer an ad, mailing, or email offering the opportunity to work at home; they are then hired as a ‘reshipper’ or secret shopper.
  • Romance schemes – Victims are asked to help a new romantic partner they meet online by opening a bank account in the person’s name, which is then used to transfer money. The victim may also be asked to send their own money to alleviate their supposed ‘romantic interest’ with business or personal hardships.
  • Lottery schemes – Victims are asked to help scammers transfer money after they have “won” money in a sweepstakes or lottery.

Clearly, most victims do not realize they are being used in these situations, as they believe they are helping their phone or internet friend. Some victims are even asked to travel overseas to meet their contact. They may be arrested for helping to smuggle drugs or money across borders, or even kidnapped and their family extorted for money to gain their return. 

Victims used as money mules are often part of a larger scheme designed to extract money from an organization and/or other people. Unwitting money mules are increasingly used to open bank accounts and enable the transfer of funds that they don’t realize actually belong to other victims. Victims may also become mules by following the directions of a scammer to forward money that is mailed or sent to them by another victim (or by the scammer).

To learn more, see:

We would like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Scam Working Group and Bet Tzedek, whose research informed this article.

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