What comes to mind when someone says the word “mule”?
For some, it might be a loaded down pack animal a la gold rush era, 1849. Circa 2020’s we have miniature mules, a cute cuddly animal that’s trending as a “household” pet. On the other end of the mule spectrum we have gingery drinks and also drug mules. A drug mule is someone used to transport drugs for cartels or other operations. Not so adorable, I know. In today’s day and age, a mule can reference anyone who transports goods and services, but today we are going to focus on money mules.
Not So Cute
The FBI defines a money mule as someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. For example, let’s say you get a check in in the mail with a letter inside from a random entity asking you if you could send the enclosed money to their grandma for them. The letter may include a huge sob story about how the sender didn’t have enough money for the required postage and blah, blah, blah. If we set aside, for a second, the fact that they had to spend money to mail YOU the check in the first place, we can take a look and examine it in more detail. Do you know the person? Like, you’ve met them face-to-face? Or, are they a virtual connection you’ve made? Maybe it seems to be a letter from someone of importance, or who is famous. At the end of the day, one thing is true. If you’re receiving a check and being asked to deposit the funds and send someone else money, then you’re being asked to be a money mule.
If you are caught up in the drama, it could result in in a variety of consequences including but not limited to: covering the entire amount of the check, damage to your credit and financial standing, and being prosecuted and incarcerated for being a part of a money laundering conspiracy. Being a money mule isn’t something that is taken lightly in the legal world. Even if you had no idea that you were being used in a crime, you’ve still got to do the time.
Scammers will also often use online job ads, prize offers, and dating websites to recruit people into being a mule for their operation. So, this means that you have to be extra vigilant. The FBI advises you to not accept any job offers that ask you to use YOUR own bank account to transfer money for them. If so, it’s likely not a legitimate company. Go the extra mile, look into the company online to check their credibility. If something seems fishy, break off contact.
So, how do you protect yourself from these money laundering predators?
- Be wary of the people you meet online… always. Also, be extra suspicious if they ask you to use YOUR bank account to receive and transfer money for them. They are trying to use you as a mule in their scheme.
- Don’t ever give your financial information to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you met them online.
- If you suspect you may be a target for a money mule scam contact local law enforcement or your financial institution. They’re trained to recognize these scams and can help you identify trouble.
- Do a Google search on the company and cease communication with “Todd” via that trendy dating app. If he starts wanting your personal banking information, trust your gut. When you get that feeling that something may be off listen to that little voice inside your head and be suspicious. Odds are, that feeling is right.
That’ll Do Donkey. That’ll Do.
We live in a world full of people who are out to take advantage of other people. Any ‘90’s Sci-Fi fans tuning in today? The X-Files always used the phrase “trust no one”. In the world of finance, I consider this to be the golden rule, unless you’re at the bank. If, at any point, you suspect that you may be a mule: stop communication, notify your bank and law enforcement. The FBI recommends that you keep any receipts, contact information and any other relevant communication that was being used between the scammer and yourself. The only way to stop these crooks is to document and report them.
Stay safe and only interact with mules at petting zoos or the local farm stand. Better yet, grab a copper mug and enjoy an ice cold mule. When in doubt, make waffles like Donkey did in Shrek! A sure fire way to stay safe and it’s a delicious option.
Also, tell us in the comments if you think a donkey and a mule are the same animal. Are they different?
Check out this infographic from ABA for more information on money mules!