Money mules are quite literally the workhorses of the online fraud world. The term “money mule” is borrowed from the nomenclature used to describe the human pack horses of the drug cartels — so-called “drug mules” — people who physically carry illegal substances on their person while crossing the U.S. border. Some drug mules actually ingest large numbers of tiny bags full of illegal substances, and carry the narcotics in their digestive system on the way into the United States. You can probably guess how the drugs are…er…offloaded by these mules.
Of course, money mules don’t actually ingest the cash they help steal from banks and small businesses that are victimized by criminal gangs, although they do occasionally eat the cost when their bank turns around and holds them liable for the missing money. However, some of the mules — mainly young Eastern European men and women of college age who are here in the United States on temporary J1 visas — do physically carry the cash on their person when they head back home.
Anyway, this blog posts focuses on the former group, those willing or unwitting individuals who stand to very likely make $500-$700 from a single transaction with the crooks. Money mules are recruited through work-at-home job offers that arrive via e-mail, usually claiming that the prospective employer found the recipient’s resume’ on careerbuilders.com, monster.com, or some other job search site. Recruits are told they will be helping to move money for international companies, and are asked to provide their bank account and routing numbers so that they can receive incoming transfers.
Now, technically speaking, most mules are by default fired after their first and only successful job: Each mule is worth slightly less than $10,000 to the cyber gangs, who will cease communicating with a mule the minute after he or she successfully wires the money to the crooks and e-mails the access number the criminals need to pick up the cash.
The mules’ job isn’t that difficult: Wait by the computer between 8 and 11 a.m. for a message saying a deposit is ready for withdraw. The mule is instructed to then go down to their bank, pull out the money in cash, and then wire it abroad via Western Union and Moneygram.
But you’d be surprised at how often the mules screw this up. Here are the Top 10 ways that mules can get fired: