Many of today’s Internet scams originate overseas, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe. However, they do rely on a local component, and you want to make sure that you do not end up unwittingly becoming involved in cybercrime.
You’ve probably seen ads for what appear to be great job opportunities. “Work from home! No experience necessary! Own your own franchise with no money down!” These all sound too good to be true because they are. If you respond, chances are good that you are being recruited to become a “money mule.”
The term money mule comes from the usage of the word “mule” to describe someone who transports illegal drugs. A money mule is someone who “transports” money or goods illegally. There are no legal money-forwarding jobs.
Here’s how it works: If you respond to one of the job scam ads, you’ll be told that you will be working for an overseas corporation that needs you to forward money from customers. The money is deposited into your bank account. You keep a percentage and wire the rest to the company. They may claim that money can’t come directly to them and has to go through “shipping agents.” This is not true, as international corporations legally transfer money from country to country all the time. You may also be asked to re-ship merchandise that is delivered to your home.
The money that ends up in your bank account is obtained illegally. It’s either from credit card fraud or stolen through identity theft. If you are asked to forward packages, chances are those packages contain goods obtained with stolen credit cards.
Even if you unwittingly end up as a money mule, you will be held liable. If you are caught, you could end up in jail, your bank accounts will be frozen and you may have to pay restitution to victims. You can be quite sure that your “employer” will be long gone with the money and you will be stuck holding the bag.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself. Don’t be fooled into believing that jobs like this are legal. Do not open bank accounts to accept money from people you don’t know and don’t forward money to a third party. Check the company thoroughly. Find out how long they have been in business. Don’t be fooled by a slick website.
Of course, you also want to protect yourself from becoming a victim of Internet scams of all types. Don’t share passwords or clues to passwords. Check your credit report at least once a year. Check your bank account and credit card statements carefully. Look for small discrepancies too because many cybercriminals assume that these will be overlooked, but they can add up. They can also signal to criminals that you aren’t paying close attention and that they can get away with stealing larger amounts of money. Be careful and be wary of anything that seems too good to be true!