You’re a money mule and you don’t know it?!

When I hear a news like “40 million credit card details stolen“, I used to wonder how the hackers cash out and get the money on their hands. Since it is traceable, they cannot buy anything or transfer the money. Let’s face it, hacking the accounts might be “easy” but getting the money is a bit challenging. So how do they get the money? Some of the hackers sell the credit card or bank account details to third parties to avoid the risk of getting caught while cashing out. Imagine stolen 40 million credit cards details sold at $20 each; it is still worth it for the hackers. But the story is still not complete. How do the people who bought the details get the money then? Transferring still will not work because it is traceable. Sell it to somebody else? Maybe. Keep reading.

Recently, somebody told me that he found an online job from a credible source. He told me that some people contacted him through e-mail claiming they read his CV on a career search website. And since he recently posted his CV on the website, he thought they are 100% legit. They offered him a very good salary for something that didn’t need much of his time; a 10% commission on each transaction and bonus. They also promised him a raise after the first 1 month of probation period. He was happy about it and filled in some forms and started the job. What does he have to do? Simple, give out his bank details (normally IBAN but they said he will have extra 200 euro bonus if he hands over his username and password for his online banking which obviously is to steal money from his bank account), then they will transfer him some money, then he has to withdraw 90% of the money (10% is his commission) and send it to them via Western Union. Money laundrying made easy!

But what is really going on? OK, here is the deal.  These people have a lot of stolen accounts on their hands. Since they cannot transfer the money to their account, for obvious reasons, they hire somebody (called money mule) to do the risky job. This guy told me he thought he was working with a 20+ years old financial company. Normally, since the person who is hired does not know he is doing a crime, he will go to his bank, withdraw the money and send it to the thieves. In order to avoid being traced, these people might have a fake identity to claim the money from Western Union (or related service). The money is gone. When the person who was stolen reports to the police, the police asks the bank and the bank says there was a transfer to this account. It is only the mule that will be caught while the original thieves are enjoying the money.

After doing a little research I found out that most of the thieves are from Eastern Europe. In fact, the guy told me he was supposed to send the money to Ukraine. I also noticed that most frauds (be it the Nigerian 419 scam) involve Western Union. Couldn’t this problem be minimized if Western Union outlets had asked some questions where the money came from before accepting and sending the money when the destined person resides in these countries? Off the top of my head, it seems a solution to me.

Have you ever been a money mule? Or do you know someone who was a money mule?

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