The Justice Department (DOJ) said it took action to stop over 600 “money mules” from assisting in fraud schemes that steal money from victims and forwarding the proceeds to perpetrators overseas.
Officials said on Wednesday that over a two-month period authorities were able to disrupt mule activity that spanned over 85 federal districts and mainly victimized senior citizens. The actions addressed a variety of elder fraud schemes including grandparent scams, romance scams, and lottery and sweepstakes scams, the department said.
This comes after 228 money mule recruiters were arrested by authorities in 31 countries as part of an international crackdown, according to the European Union’s police agency, Europol, on Tuesday.
As part of the DOJ initiative, they have charged a number of individuals who have knowingly funneled fraud proceeds to accomplices.
Money mules are people who help move stolen money from country to country, helping mask the identity of individuals who are involved in the larger crime. Some of these individuals are recruited through a job posting and are likely unaware that what they are doing is illegal, according to the FBI.
In one case, four Georgia residents were charged in November for their involvement in an international scheme to defraud retirees of their veterans and social security benefits. The conspirators alleged obtained the details of personal identifying information of veterans and social security beneficiaries to unlawfully gain access to their accounts. They then redirected the benefits to bank accounts that they controlled, the department said in a news release.
In another case, six Las Vegas, Nevada area residents were accused of running a mass-mailing scheme that tricked hundreds of thousands of victims into paying over $10 million in fees for falsely promised cash prizes, the department said. The indictment alleged that the conspirators led victims, many who were elderly, to believe that they could pay a $20 or $30 fee to claim a large cash prize.
“Protecting our senior citizens from criminals who target them is one of the Trump Administration’s highest priorities,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “Money mules—wittingly and unwittingly—supply the lifeblood of transnational elder fraud schemes. This landmark initiative has significantly impaired certain ways criminals steal from its elderly victims.”
In March this year, the department announced that it had charged more than 260 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. The department said the defendants had victimized over two million Americans, mostly elderly people, and caused a total of more than $750 million in damages.
The department then launched a Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force in June to focus on investigating and prosecuting individuals and entities associated with foreign-based fraud schemes such as telemarketing, mass-mailing, and tech-support fraud schemes.
Congress passed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) in 2017 aimed at addressing financial abuse and exploitation of elderly Americans. According to the National Council of Aging, elder financial abuse and fraud cost senior Americans about $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually.
The FBI website has provided some tips into how to identify if you may be acting as a money mule:
- You received an unsolicited email or contact over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
- The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook).
- You are asked to open up a bank account in your own name or in the name of a company you form to receive and transfer money.
- As an employee, you are asked to receive funds in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds” via a wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
- You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer.
- Your duties have no specific job description.
- Your online companion, whom you have never met in person, asks you to receive money and, subsequently, forward the funds to an individual you do not know.