As too many victims have already learned, there is something worse than just being a scammer’s prey. That something worse is being pulled into the scam yourself until you are (inadvertently) a criminal as well. There are a variety of scams, including romance scams, work-from-home scams and lottery scams, in which being snared in the scammer’s trap can leave you facing jail time. It is what is called a money mule scam.
In a money mule scam, criminals get someone else to move funds for them. It might be cashing checks and mailing the money to other people, depositing funds into your account and buying items that you send elsewhere, or any other similar kind of transaction.
First, never give money to someone you have met online, no matter what excuse they give you. However, the flip side is that you should never accept money from someone either. Ask yourself why this person is using you as their own personal ATM, or why you are the one buying iPads or smartphones and shipping them to other people. Why can’t your “friend” do it themselves?
The answer is not a good one. There is no legitimate, legal reason why someone can manage to send you money but cannot make a purchase for themselves or transfer that money to a different individual. The only reason to do it is to avoid putting their name on the paper trail, or because residents of their home country are not allowed to make the purchase or transaction. Most likely, though, is that the original funds were stolen. You are now the person who deposited that stolen money into your bank account, and you can be subject to a criminal investigation as a result.
One variation of the money mule scam includes overpayment scams. This happens when someone sends you money—often for a fake “work from home” job, an invoice to your company, or even a purchase like buying your used car—and then claims they have overpaid you. When you accept their funds and send some of it back, you are not only taking the risk that their check was bad and the refund actually came out of your own account balance. Worse, their original funds may have been stolen. You took possession of the stolen money (which can be a crime) and then turned around and moved those funds back to them from your account, which can fall under money laundering.
What do you do if you think someone is using you as part of a money mule scam?
- Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center and the Federal Trade Commission for help and information.
- Stop making any sort of transactions immediately.
- Monitor your accounts to ensure the scammers are not still able to access your funds.
- File a police report if you have lost any of your own funds in interacting with the scammers.
Money mule scams are some of the most dangerous scams because they can inadvertently turn victims into criminals. Do what you can to educate yourself to reduce your risk of falling victim.
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