Money mule scams have become increasingly common in recent years, with criminals using a range of tactics to trick unsuspecting victims into laundering money on their behalf. One such tactic involves the use of joint accounts, which are opened fraudulently in the name of both the victim and the money mule.
- The scam starts with the threat actor(s) targeting people through phishing or smishing campaigns, using social engineering tactics to trick victims into providing their full Online Banking (OLB) credentials. Once the threat actor obtains this information, they will typically recruit individuals to act as money mules, often through social media or in person. Often, individuals involved in money mule scams are not aware that they are committing a crime. Instead, they believe they are engaging in a work-from-home opportunity or a "side-hustle."
- The recruited money mules then open new accounts at a financial institution branch or online, or simply provide their personal details to the threat actor(s), who use this information to open personal checking or savings accounts via online channels in the mule's name.
- With the mule accounts and the compromised victim accounts under their control, the threat actor(s) then open a joint account online in the name of both the mule and the victim. This enables them to conduct online funds transfers from the victim's personal accounts (Checking, Savings, HELOC accounts) to the fraudulently opened joint accounts.
- Once the joint account is established, the threat actors move the money from the fraudulent joint accounts to the fraudulent individual mule accounts. They then instruct the money mule (the account owner) to deplete the funds from their account via ATM cash withdrawals, POS debit purchases, P2P payments, and in-branch over-the-counter cash withdrawals.
- The use of joint accounts in money mule scams adds another layer of complexity and deception to an already sophisticated scheme. Victims may not even be aware that a joint account has been opened in their name, let alone that their funds are being transferred to a fraudulent account controlled by the threat actors.
- To avoid falling victim to this type of scam, it is important to be vigilant. It is also essential to monitor your bank accounts regularly and report any suspicious activity to your financial institution immediately.
Keep your online accounts safe:
- Be cautious of unsolicited emails or text messages requesting personal information or directing you to click on a link.
- Always verify the sender's email address or phone number before responding to any request for personal information.
- Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
- Use strong and unique passwords for all of your online accounts, and never share them with anyone.
- Enable two-factor authentication on all of your online accounts to provide an extra layer of security.
- Monitor your bank account and credit card statements regularly to identify any unauthorized transactions.
- Educate yourself on common phishing and smishing tactics, so you can recognize them and avoid falling victim to them.
- If you receive an email or text message that appears suspicious, contact your bank or financial institution directly to verify its authenticity.
- Use antivirus and anti-malware software on your devices to protect against potential threats.
- Keep your devices and software up to date with the latest security patches and updates.
Avoid becoming a "money mule":
- Be cautious of unsolicited job offers that promise high earnings for little work or with vague job descriptions.
- Be cautious of job offers or investment opportunities that require you to pay money upfront or to provide personal information before you can start.
- Always research a company or organization before accepting a job offer or engaging in any financial transactions.
- Be suspicious of online acquaintances or strangers who ask for access to your bank account or to use your identity for online transactions.
- Never agree to transfer money on behalf of someone you don't know or who you have only met online.
- Be wary of individuals who ask you to receive money into your account, and then transfer it to another account.
- Avoid opening bank accounts or conducting financial transactions for someone else, especially if they are not a family member or a trusted friend.
- Be wary of pyramid schemes or multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes that require you to recruit others in order to make money.
- Do not share your bank account details, credit card information, or any other financial details with strangers or individuals you do not know well.
- Always read the terms and conditions of any financial transaction or investment opportunity carefully before agreeing to participate.
- Be cautious of any investment opportunity that promises high returns with little or no risk.
- Do not send money to anyone you do not know or trust, especially if they ask you to do so via wire transfer or cryptocurrency.
- Be suspicious of individuals who ask you to receive packages or mail on their behalf, especially if they offer to pay you for doing so.
- Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unsolicited emails or messages, as they may contain malware or viruses that can compromise your computer or device.
- Educate yourself about the different types of financial scams, how they work, and how to protect yourself from them.
- Stay informed about the latest scams and frauds by regularly checking reputable sources such as government websites, consumer protection agencies, and your financial institution.
If you suspect that you have been targeted for a money mule scam, stop all communication with the person or organization immediately and report the incident to the authorities.
Warning signs and dangers of "account takeover":
- Receiving unsolicited emails or messages from strangers offering high-paying job opportunities.
- Requests to open new bank accounts, or use an existing bank account, for money transfers.
- Being asked to transfer money to foreign countries or to individuals you don't know.
- Pressure to complete transactions quickly, without proper verification or documentation.
- Being asked to keep transactions secret or to not disclose details to others.
- Being offered a percentage of the money as payment for your services.
- Being promised a high-paying job without any specific job description or interview.
- Being asked to provide personal information, such as your social security number, passport, or driver's license.
- Being threatened with legal consequences or harm if you refuse to participate.