FBI sounds alarm on coronavirus-prompted 'money mule' schemes

FBI has enlisted a team of employees specifically dedicated to COVID-19 scams

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is sounding the alarm on scammers who are tricking people into becoming “money mules” as the new coronavirus is causing some to desperately seek ways to make money.

Not only are scammers finding new, inventive ways to steal the public’s information and trick people into forking over their money, they’re duping others into moving cash that criminals have obtained illegally, the FBI warned.

“When criminals obtain money illegally, they have to find a way to move and hide the illicit funds,” according to the FBI. “They scam other people, known as money mules, into moving this illicit money for them either through funds transfers, physical movement of cash or through various other methods.”

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FBI WARNS OF SCAMMERS TARGETING CORONAVIRUS FEARS

Money mules, the agency explained, are typically recruited through dating apps and websites or through Internet-based “work-from-home” schemes.

Steven Merrill, who leads the FBI's Financial Crimes Section explained in a Monday FBI report how scammers are preying upon what he called “a vulnerable population.”

"People are scared and looking for help. People are trying to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “There may be an extra level of desperation right now that may cause someone to make an emotional decision that could make them a victim.”

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An online job scam often looks innocent enough.

The "employee" corresponds with his or her “boss” by email. The employer instructs his or her victim to open a bank account, through which he or she will receive money from their boss. The employee is then told to wire transfer the money elsewhere, while keeping a portion for him or herself, the release states.

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Similar scams involve fraudsters who contact strangers online or over the phone and ask for financial help, or to assist them in sending money to someone else. In some cases, they pose as service members overseas or Americans quarantined as a result of COVID-19.

The FBI has enlisted a team of employees specifically dedicated to COVID-19 scams, and the bureau is already making arrests. U.S. Attorneys nationwide have also announced plans to combat these schemes.

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