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But the person performing the scheme for the criminal is sometimes unaware that he or she has even been recruited for the crime.
“When criminals obtain money illegally, they have to find a way to move and hide the illicit funds,” the FBI warned in the beginning of April. “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.”
Money mules are typically contacted or recruited online through dating apps, chat websites, prize announcements or through Internet-based “work-from-home” schemes.
The process begins when scammers send their "mules" money, sometimes even using a bogus check. They will then direct them to transfer it or most or all of it over to a certain person or account, often through money wires or even gift cards, according to a Federal Trade Commission blog post about the scam. "
In most cases, scammers "don’t tell you the money is stolen and they’re lying about the reason to send it," the FTC post states. "And there never was a relationship, job, or prize. Only a scam."
The FBI recently warned that scammers are targeting people struggling for money as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, tricking them into becoming money mules for the criminals' illicit activities by duping them into thinking they've been recruited for a job.
Through this work scheme, the "employee" corresponds with his or her “boss” through email. The employer instructs his or her victim to open a bank account, through which he or she will receive money from the boss. The employee is then told to wire transfer the money elsewhere while keeping a portion for him or herself, the agency explained.