Criminals using COVID-19 to recruit new moneymules

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Criminals using COVID-19 to recruit new moneymules


Unread post by The Inquisitor » Tue May 12, 2020 7:02 am

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Criminals are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to recruit money mules via social media to launder cash from human trafficking, terrorism financing or drug dealing, experts have warned.

Social media mule recruitment is being ramped-up in recent weeks after legitimate sources of income, such as hospitality or retail work, dried up almost entirely due to lockdown measures and people have become more vulnerable to scams.

Fraudsters are also using bereavement scams that target the relatives of people who have died from Covid-19 purporting to be debt collectors recovering debts incurred by the deceased, according to Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service.

There are many different ways to recruit money mules, who pass money from illegitimate sources through their bank accounts to make it appear clean, says Araliya Sammé, the head of financial crime at fraud prevention firm Featurespace.

These gangs are targeting students and people under 25 because they are particularly likely to be out of work at the moment, she explains.

“They are spending much more time in front of their screens waiting for the situation and on social media platforms.

“It could just be a pop-up promising a quick and simple way to earn money from home.

“With Covid-19, there are many more people who have lost their jobs, been made redundant or furloughed so criminals can target those people as well, through different recruitment sites as well.”

In a recent poll by Featurespace, around a quarter of people said they did not believe they would be committing a criminal activity by carrying out money mule activity; but the case of two British students jailed last year for laundering dirty cash shows that the consequences can be serious and ignorance is not a defence.

“On the very dark side it can be funding terrorism, human trafficking, drugs and all of these things,” says Ms Sammé. “This is something that many people just don’t realise.”

Another scam on the rise during the pandemic is taking advantage of people’s desire to help others – targeted emails or websites appearing to represent legitimate charities can be used by fraudsters trying to recruit money mules.

“They will ask you to register to feel like you are doing something valuable and the next thing you know is that you have been asked to send some money, or facilitate a bitcoin exchange,” says Ms Sammé.

Typically, a target will receive an email, they believe they are registering for a charity. First they give them a bit of activity to do so the individual feels they are fulfilling their tasks as part of the charity.

Later they will say “we’d really like you to send some money for the charity” for a specific reason or an institution that they’ve identified, Ms Sammé explains. They ask mules to cash out some bitcoin into their account and send the money on.

“This is one way to use Covid to target a wider pool of vulnerable people who are generally law-abiding, who just want to help in these difficult times. People are just abusing that,” she explains.

Criminals build up a relationship with people who may later realise that they are involved in criminal activity, a fact that gangs then exploit to coerce mules into further transactions.

Some criminals have even been found to be coaching money mules about what to say to avoid detection if a bank flags a transaction as suspicious.

“By this stage, you probably feel very isolated and don’t know what to do or how to ask for help. You may feel you are doing something wrong but don’t want to speak to the bank,” says Sammé. “You can’t really claim ignorance any more but you can’t stop.”

By Ben Chapman, The Independent, 11 May 2020

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