BALTIMORE, MD—The FBI’s Baltimore Field Office is warning potential victims of an increase in silver donkey plans.
A money mule is a person who transfers money illegally between different payment accounts – often in different countries – on behalf of others. This year, the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) believes the public is more inclined to fall for donkey schemes because of increased recruitment opportunities due to the surge in unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic .
Between 2015 and 2019 reports of fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have more than tripled, going from $ 1.1 billion to $ 3.5 billion. Much of this reported fraud has been enabled by silver mules. Although it was the 19th most populous state, last year Maryland was fifth in the country for the number of donkeys – behind only California, Texas, Florida and New York.
As these numbers increase, 2020 presents a new set of challenges including fraudsters pretending to be those looking to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many companies are being forced to lay off workers or close down completely during the pandemic, more “home-working” job opportunities are being advertised, even on reputable job sites.
Once you have been “hired” for these jobs, you may first be asked to perform a few easy tasks related to COVID-19, such as researching the current price of various hand sanitizers. Ultimately, the employer may ask you to accept a “donation” of money into your own bank account or open a new bank account in the name of a company to receive a deposit of money. You will then be asked to withdraw the cash in cash and deposit them into a Bitcoin ATM or “kiosk.” The so-called “gift” is money that has been stolen from others. Moults may also be asked to wire the deposited funds into another bank account or even use the funds to purchase gift cards or other transferable assets. Receiving and handing over the stolen money may be considered a violation of federal money laundering statutes, especially if the activity is long or you keep any of the money for you ‘ yourself. Even if you are not a personal profit, this illegal money mule activity could open you up to criminal prosecution while the scammer ensures access to the funds without being directly involved in the initial fraud.
Acting as a cash mule – allowing others to use your bank account, or conducting financial transactions on behalf of others, jeopardizes your financial security and compromises your personally identifiable information. Protect yourself by refusing to send or receive money on behalf of individuals and businesses for which you are not personally and professionally responsible.
Signs You may act as a silver mule
- You receive an unsolicited email or link over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
- The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook).
- You will be asked to open a bank account in your own name, or in the name of a company you are forming, to receive and transfer funds.
- As an employee, you are asked to receive money in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds” by wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
- You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you pass on.
- Your duties have no specific job description.
- Your online companion, whom you have never met in person, requires you to conduct financial transactions that they should reasonably be able to do for themselves and offers to share the proceeds of that transaction with you.
- Your online companion is adamant that you keep the relationship and related financial transactions confidential.
How to Protect Yourself
- Do not accept any job offers that require you to use your own bank account to transfer their money. A legitimate company will not ask you to do this.
- Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company to open a new bank account.
- Never give your financial details to someone you do not know and trust, especially if you met them online.
- Be wary when job ads are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
- Be skeptical when the person you met on a dating site wants to use your bank account to receive and send money.
- Perform online searches to verify the information from any emails and solicitation links.
- Ask the employer, “Can you send me a copy of the license / permit to conduct business in my county or state?”
- Use the privacy settings on your social media and be selective about the information you publish.
- If you are unsure whether or not you are being used as a cash mule and are uncomfortable talking to law enforcement, consult your local bank branch.
How to Respond
- If you have received requests of this kind, do not respond to them and do not click on any links contained within them. Report it to your local police or FBI.
- If you believe you are participating in a cashback scheme, stop transferring money immediately and inform your bank, the service you used to conduct the transaction, and law enforcement.
If you believe you, or someone you know, has been solicited to be a money mule, contact the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office at (410) 265-8080. To report suspicious activity, visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Learn more about silver mules and help raise awareness by sharing the facts through #DontBeAMule.