Money muling 101: Recognize and avoid this increasingly common scam

April 04, 2022

One of today’s most serious scams uses your bank account to aid criminals. Here’s a crash course on money mule scams, including what they are and how to recognize them.

 

Many of us have fallen for a scam before. Perhaps you clicked a phony email link or gave your information to the wrong person. If you’re lucky, the experience was resolved quickly with minimal personal cost. Unfortunately, one increasingly common scam has steep legal and financial consequences for everyone involved. Becoming a money mule, unwittingly or not, could have serious consequences such as a variety of legal issues, fines and fees, possible incarceration and the potential to permanently damage your financial standing.

So how can you avoid becoming the victim of money muling? Here’s what you need to know.

 

What is money muling?

Money mule scams are typically disguised as job opportunities. They promise a fast and easy way to earn money. You simply provide your bank account information and let money be transferred into your account. Then you move the money out of your account for a commission. Sounds great, right?

In reality, these “jobs” use you and your bank account to move illegally obtained funds through the financial system. Anyone engaging in this activity acts as a “money mule.” Criminals recruit money mules – unwitting or not – to help them transfer funds without detection by law enforcement. They move money from account to account, eventually using it to fund more crime.

  1. Criminal gets money: Criminals obtain money through illegal activity, often through cybercrimes like phishing emails and malware attacks. 
  2. Money laundering: Money is hidden in the financial system in a variety of ways. Money mules help transfer money between payment accounts. 
  3. Criminal activity: Money is used to fund human trafficking, drugs, terrorism and other crimes.

 

How money mules are recruited

As technology evolves, money mule scams take on a growing variety of forms. Criminals may try to recruit you in any of the following ways:

  • Emails
  • Social media messages
  • Fraudulent job advertisements
  • Fake online posts
  • Instant messaging posts
  • Direct communication

 

How to recognize a money mule scam

Criminals go to great lengths to pass as legitimate, sometimes even copying the website of real companies and creating similar URLs. Be on the lookout for these warning signs:

  • The job claims you can earn a significant amount of money for minimal effort.
  • No matter what the specifics are, your bank account information is needed to move money.
  • You’re asked to work as local representative for an overseas company. They may ask for an “agent” to help them avoid transaction charges or local taxes.
  • The job description lacks details.
  • No experience or education is required.
  • All work is done online.
  • Emails have awkward writing with poorly constructed sentences and bad grammar.
  • Email is from a web-based server like Yahoo!, Windows Live Hotmail or Gmail.

 

Protect yourself

Always be skeptical of opportunities that seem too good to be true. Do your research about companies before accepting a job or giving out your personal information.

  • Be cautious of unsolicited emails and social posts.
  • Verify company information online or give them a call.
  • Double check job offers from overseas companies.
  • Never give your bank account information.

 

Learn more about money muling

Want additional facts and insights? Access more information about money muling and other common scams:

  • Europol money muling awareness and prevention
  • FBI scams and safety

 

Get more tips to help spot and prevent financial fraud.

Related content

How to spot an online scam

How to avoid student loan scams

Recognize. React. Report. Don't fall victim to financial exploitation

Webinar: Approaching international payment strategies in today’s unpredictable markets.

How to avoid being the victim of a digital payments scam

Automate accounts payable to optimize revenue and payments

Webinar: Mobile banking tips for smarter and safer online banking

Webinar: How to fight off fraud

Webinar: Protect yourself or your loved ones from elder fraud

Webinar: Tips to avoid today’s cyber threats

Authenticating cardholder data reduce e-commerce fraud

Increase working capital with Commercial Card Optimization

Fraud prevention checklist

The mobile app to download before summer vacation

Learn to spot and protect yourself from common student scams

4 ways to outsmart your smart device

Dear Money Mentor: What is cryptocurrency?

Money muling 101: Recognizing and avoiding this increasingly common scam

What you need to know about identity theft

What you need to know about financial fraud

5 tips for seniors to stay a step ahead of schemers

Recognize. React. Report. Caregivers can help protect against financial exploitation

Is online banking safe?

Identity stolen? 5 steps to take immediately

How you can prevent identity theft

8 tips and tricks for creating and remembering your PIN

Solutions banks can offer during the COVID-19 pandemic

Hospitals face cybersecurity risks in surprising new ways

Higher education strategies for e-payment migration, fighting fraud

5 steps you should take after a major data breach

Cybersecurity – Protecting client data through industry best practices

Why KYC — for organizations

Post-pandemic fraud prevention lessons for local governments

BEC: Recognize a scam

Fight the battle against payments fraud

The latest on cybersecurity: Vulnerability testing and third-party software

The password: Enhancing security and usability

Tactical Treasury: Fraud prevention is a never-ending task

3 timeless tips to reduce corporate payments fraud

The surprising truth about corporate cards

White Castle optimizes payment transactions

4 tips for protecting your business against Coronavirus-related scams

Proactive ways to fight vendor fraud

The latest on cybersecurity: Mobile fraud and privacy concerns

Cybercrisis management: Are you ready to respond?

Protecting your business from fraud

Webinar: A closer look at U.S. Bank AP Optimizer

How to improve digital payments security for your health system

Webinar: Fraud prevention and mitigation for government agencies

Webinar: CRE Digital Transformation – Balancing Digitization with cybersecurity risk

Start of disclosure content

Loan approval is subject to credit approval and program guidelines. Not all loan programs are available in all states for all loan amounts. Interest rate and program terms are subject to change without notice. Mortgage, home equity and credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Deposit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC.

U.S. Bank is not responsible for and does not guarantee the products, services or performance of U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc.