Money muling: a way to launder money

(To Danilo Mancinone)

In this article I will talk about "money muling": an illegal practice that favors drug trafficking, human trafficking, online fraud and which risks getting into trouble, including criminal ones, whoever becomes a protagonist without his knowledge.

It is one of the fastest growing cyber criminal phenomena in the world, consisting of money laundering from illicit activities: especially deriving from computer fraud, attacks on banking systems and Phishing, phenomena we often talk about in the Cyber ​​section of Online Defense.

Crime to try to clean up the "dirty money" obtained with the aforementioned malicious cyber-activities uses people willing to transfer it in their own name, often in other countries, through current accounts, credit cards and other payment instruments. All in exchange for an average commission (10%) on the amount. It may happen to also receive the offer of an additional commission for each new one money mule that you can recruit.

The etymology of "money mule" derives from the combination of the words "coin" and "mule": in fact, mule was originally called those who transported - perhaps without knowing it - explosives, weapons, drugs, and not infrequently these subjects belong to organizations criminals or they act out of need but more and more often they are unwitting victims, lured into a trap with various devices.

You know, to "fall into the trap" you always need a lure: the favorite are online job advertisements (for example, "looking for money transfer agents" or "assets") or via social (e.g. Facebook posts on closed groups), with apparently legitimate and normal job offers. Note that specific job duties are not described and the position to be filled does not list any particular educational or experience requirements. Another aspect that must make us doubt is that all interactions and transactions will be online and that the offer promises a potential gain for a small commitment...

Ads often indicate that a foreign company is looking for these "evanescent" figures who act on their behalf for a period of time, sometimes to avoid high transaction costs or local taxes.

Other times clone sites of famous companies are built or web addresses similar to the original are used to artfully mask the scam instead of a company domain: in fact, the e-mail address associated with the offer often uses a web domain, such as Gmail, Yahoo, Libero, Hotmail etc.

More men than women fall there, with an average age between 18 and 34 years (but there are also cases of minors) and a large incidence of unemployed, students and people in economic difficulties or who have recently moved to a country.

By paying attention to some signals, you can defend yourself: the police recommend that you be wary of emails or unexpected contacts via social media or instant messaging apps (WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, etc.) containing proposals for "easy money" but also for job offers too general, which do not require particular skills or experience.

It must be borne in mind that the following aspects do not unequivocally indicate a solicitation of potentials money mules, however, they are often warning signs and very common in everyday reality.

Another alarm bell consists in the specific request that the aspiring worker's current account will be used to carry out money transactions, while suspicious emails almost always contain blatant grammatical or syntax errors and come from addresses traceable to service provider companies and not. to the domain of a specific company. In the latter case you should never click on the links but look for more precise information about the company and avoid providing your bank details!

In fact, it is essential to never reveal your credentials for access to online banking services or card details (eg PIN, CVV code) to others.

The EMMA Police operation 6

At the very beginning of December 2020, the law enforcement agencies of 26 European countries and Europol disseminated the results of "EMMA 6" (European Money Mule Action), that is a worldwide operation against money mule. Between September and November 2020, the "EMMA 6" operation was conducted for the sixth consecutive year with the support of the EBF (European Banking Federation), FINTRAIL, INTERPOL and Western Union. As a result, 4.031 money mule were identified along with 227 recruiters and 422 people were arrested worldwide. During the operation, 1.529 criminal investigations were launched. With the support of the private sector, including more than 500 banks and financial institutions, 4.942 fraudulent transactions of money mule, avoiding a total loss of approximately 33,5 million euros. Furthermore, again at the end of 2020, Europol and the law enforcement agencies of various European countries, together with CERTFin and other international partners and financial institutions, launched the campaign with the hashtag #DontBeaMule to raise awareness of the risks of money muling. The initiative, promoted at the national level by the competent authorities, aims to inform on the ways in which criminals operate, on how it is possible to protect oneself and what to do if one is involved. 

In summary, a money mule (money mule) is a person who transfers money (digitally or in cash) received from a third party to others, obtaining a commission in return. Do the money mule it is not only illegal, it also helps to help organized criminal groups in laundering and transferring illicit proceeds abroad. Money laundering is a crime. Easy money is always dangerous.

So here's what to do if you think you've been involved in a money muling scheme:

1) stop transferring money immediately;
2) notify your bank or your payment card provider;
3) inform the State Police.

The moral? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't!