Scammers recruiting “money mules” to transfer money to or from bank accounts or via prepaid cards or cryptocurrency have been around for a long time. Sometimes their victims are complicit, but often, the unwitting target is a recent immigrant, elderly person, college student or someone looking for love on a dating site.
The COVID-19 pandemic now has scammers scouting for money mules more than ever.
“Fraudsters are taking advantage of the uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, access your personal and financial information and use you as a money mule,” says the FBI.
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1. Work from home schemes
When a potential employer communicates via a personal email account such as Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, that can be a red flag that the person or company isn’t legit.
Never accept job offers where someone from the business asks you to accept company funds into your personal account or instructs you to open a business bank account, warns the FBI.
2. Requests to transfer funds
If someone contacts you with a request to receive funds into your bank account and then “process” or “transfer” a portion of the money via wire transfer, ACH, mail, Western Union, MoneyGram or another money service business, don’t do it, says the FBI.
Instead, stop all communication with the suspected scammer immediately and report the suspicious activity to the FBI Crime Complaint Center.
3. Money requests from people overseas
Beware of communications from people claiming to be U.S. citizens working abroad or quarantined abroad who ask you to send or receive money on their behalf or for a loved one supposedly fighting COVID-19.
“Watch out for emails, private messages, and phone calls from individuals you do not know who claim to be located abroad and in need of your financial support,” says the FBI. “Criminals are trying to gain access to U.S. bank accounts in order to move fraud proceeds from you and other victims to their bank accounts.”
4. Money requests from a new online love
According to the FBI, dating websites and apps are hotbeds of opportunity to criminals searching for a money mule who’s just looking for love.
“Communications via a dating website may include establishing a trusting relationship and promising marriage before asking for financial assistance due to a job crisis or healthcare crisis,” according to the FBI.
If an online romantic partner wants you to receive or transfer funds from your bank account, that’s a “romance” you don’t need. If you receive such a request, cut off communications immediately, notify your bank and report the person to the FBI.
5. Threats from a foreign government
New immigrants and foreign exchange students are favorite targets of cybercriminals looking to score money by taking advantage of COVID-19 or deportation fears.
For example, Chinese immigrants or college students may receive a threatening email from a purported Chinese government official demanding payment to avoid deportation. Unwitting money mules in this scam put themselves at risk for not only personal liability but also identity theft and damage to their credit score.
6. Questionable charitable causes
Criminals are always eager to rip off people with kind hearts during a crisis, so be on alert if you receive an email from someone claiming to be affiliated with a charitable organization that asks you to send or receive money on their behalf.
Never provide financial details or send or receive funds on behalf of someone you don’t know. Also, research the charity online and contact the organization to report the scam.