A “money mule” is the term given to an individual who transfers stolen goods or money. In most cases, money mules are unknowingly tricked into accepting funds from accounts without the account owner’s authorization, or they unwittingly deposit a fake check into an account at a financial institution. Sometimes, money mules are aware that they are unlawfully handling stolen money and do so in exchange for compensation. The money mule transfers the stolen money to a participant in the scheme via wire transfer or an instant funds transfer, and the money is typically untraceable and unrecoverable. If the mule is investigated, he or she may be required to pay restitution once fraud is determined.
Anyone who participates in a money muling scam at any level may face investigation by state and federal law enforcement authorities. Since investigators aggressively pursue organizations and individuals believed to be tricking others into becoming mules, it is critical to seek legal representation as soon as possible. A New York criminal defense lawyer can help provide you with legal advice on the best way to handle accusations if you have been charged with participation in a scheme to illegally move money.
What is a Money Mule?
A money mule is someone who moves or transfers stolen funds. They are often recruited through online dating services or through online job advertisements. Job listings may advertise for local processors, money transfer agents or payment processors. When individuals recruit mules via an online dating website, they may act as a romantic interest and ask the mule to forwarding money or payments.
The money is transferred via bank or wire transfer into the mule’s own account, and then the mule wires the money to the participant. The recipient is typically in a foreign country, but he or she may also be stateside.
The mule generally uses a service like Western Union to immediately transfer money from his account to the recipient. By the time authorities discover that the initial transfer was done without the account holder’s permission or in any other way fraudulent, the funds are untraceable, and the transfer is considered irreversible.
Forms of Money Mule Fraud
Money muling scams can take many forms, including:
1. Romance money mules.
An individual creates a fake profile on an online dating website, and through direct messages, emails and other methods of contact with a scam participant, a money transfer scam is arranged. A story is fabricated to coerce the mule to wire the stolen funds. Stories may include a need to transfer funds to an ill or elderly family member residing in the mule’s native country or claims of bank wire issues as a result of foreign accounts. The mule ultimately accepts the funds and resends them using Western Union or another instant money transfer service.
2. Secret shopper scams.
This type of scheme involves coercing someone into acting as a secret shopper in order to test or evaluate a money-service business. The mule is instructed to cash a (counterfeit) check and then transfer funds via MoneyGram or Western Union to “test” the efficiency and accuracy of the services.
3. Work-from-home scams.
Applicants are tricked by fake job offers into providing personal and financial details so that the “company” may make a deposit into their accounts. Once the counterfeit check or fraudulent deposit is accepted into the account, the mule moves the funds. These work-at-home schemes are perpetrated through spam emails, job search sites, classified sites and online social networking platforms.
These are just some of the more common money muling fraud schemes. There are also instances in which mules knowingly participate in transferring stolen money in exchange for a fee or commission, which may result in charges for intentionally violating U.S. fraud and banking laws.
Money Muling Penalties
Since muling involves defrauding a financial institution, defendants may face bank fraud charges under 18 U.S. Code Section 1344. Any attempted scam or any attempt to defraud a bank or financial institution that is likely to result in obtaining items of value or money from that instution can result in this federal charge. Penalties may include up to 30 years in prison and a maximum $1 million fine.
In addition, depending on the type of muling scam and the amount of money obtained, defendants may also face charges for wire fraud, mail fraud, consumer fraud and computer crimes. Defendants may also be charged with violating New York computer crime and fraud laws.
Our New York Defense Lawyers Can Help
Raisser & Kenniff can provide legal advice and defense strategies for defendants facing money muling charges. Our team can help fight for the rights of our clients, strive to reduce charges and negotiate plea agreements. For more information, please contact us today.