FBI: #COVID19 Recession Fuels Money Mule Activity

The FBI has warned that the economic recession caused by COVID-19 is creating the perfect conditions for a surge in money mule activity.

An alert sent out by the Baltimore Field Office on Friday was designed to alert potential recruits to the fact they may be unwittingly breaking the law by moving money about on behalf of others.

Due to surging unemployment in the US, many former workers are falling for “work from home” opportunities advertised online, including on legitimate job sites, the FBI noted.

“Once ‘hired’ for these jobs, you may first be asked to perform a few easy COVID-19 related tasks, such as researching the current price of various hand sanitizers. Eventually, the employer may ask you to accept a ‘donation’ of funds into your own bank account or to open a new bank account in the name of a company to accept a deposit of funds,” the notice explained.

“You are then asked to withdraw the funds in cash and deposit them into a Bitcoin ATM or ‘kiosk.’ The so-called ‘donation’ is money that has been stolen from others. Mules may also be asked to wire the deposited funds to another bank account or even to use the funds to purchase gift cards or other transferrable assets.”

Even before the pandemic struck, money mule activity had been surging as organized crime groups looked for new recruits to launder money obtained by fraud and other predicate offenses. From 2015-19, fraud losses reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) more than tripled, from $1.1bn to $3.5bn.

It’s also rife in the UK: a Cifas report from June 2019 recorded a 26% increase in fraudulent use of bank accounts over the previous year.

The FBI urged job seekers to protect themselves from such scams by refusing job offers that request they use their bank accounts to transfer other people’s money, or employers that request they form a company to open a new bank account.

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