Too Good to be True (Continued)
Last week we discussed how criminals are always looking for unsuspecting victims to help them steal and launder funds.
“Money mules” are individuals who are usually tricked into helping transfer stolen funds from one country to another.
The fraudster uses social websites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter to locate their victims. Below is another example of “Too good to be true.”
Mr. Right – You receive a notification on Facebook that someone is asking to be your friend. You don’t recognize the name, Tom Morgan, but you think to yourself maybe it’s a friend of a friend, so why not?
You accept the request and think nothing more of it. A day or two later, you start looking on his page and see pictures of him and his son throwing around a football.
He’s not bad looking. He’s about your age and Facebook says he’s single. He sends you an instant message and starts inquiring about you and your family.
A couple of months go by and before you know it you believe you have found Mr. Right. You’re texting and calling each other every day. He tells you he’s a widower.
He lives in Phoenix but he’s currently working out in Africa in the gas and oil business. He’s getting ready to head back to the states and wants to come visit you but he has a problem and he needs your help.
He doesn’t want to borrow any money or anything. He just needs a place for his company to send his payroll to. He knows he can trust you since you’re the girl of his dreams.
He explains that his account in Phoenix has been frozen. He asks you to provide an account for him to have the fund deposited to. You tell him you’re not comfortable giving out your account information.
He assures you that he’s not going to take your money but tells you if it would make you more comfortable, you can just open up another account. You decided that there shouldn’t be any risk with that. Your money is safe since you’re not giving out the account number where your direct deposit goes.
You open up a new account. You provide Tom with the account information and he tells you that he’ll give it to his company. A few days later, Tom calls and says the money should be wired in the very next day.
He also tells you that it will be a larger amount than he thought, since he’s receiving his severance pay and vacation time from the company in Africa. It’s almost $10,000.
He asks that you wire half the funds, via Money Gram or Western Union, to his sister in Florida. They have a joint account that he can access via online banking and can purchase his airline tickets to come out and see you.
Then he asks that you to send the other half to his landlord. The company he leases from is based out of California, so that’s why the funds aren’t being sent straight to Phoenix, that all makes sense.
He even leaves a little extra for you to pay the fees associated with the wire transfers. You withdraw the funds and head over to send out the wires. You tell the cashier that you’re sending the funds to family, just like Tom instructed you. Everything goes as planned.
The very next day, your bank calls and says that there’s a problem with the funds that were transferred into your account, and now, when you try to contact Tom about the problem, he is nowhere to be found!
Here’s a list of “red flags” in the example above, that should have alerted this individual to the fact that they were involved in a money mule scam:
- Accepting a Facebook request from someone you don’t know. There’s a lot of personal information out on Facebook, and other social media avenues, which you shouldn’t share with strangers;
- Opening (or using your existing account) to receive money from someone you’ve never met;
- Wiring funds out to people you do not know; and
- Transferring funds via a non-bank world-wide money movement system (i.e. MoneyGram or Western Union) to someone you don’t know.
If you receive stolen funds, whether it’s knowingly or not, you will be held financially liable for the loss. Furthermore, law enforcement will be investigating you and your bank accounts.
Below are a few steps to take, immediately:
- Stop sending money out of the account;
- Save all correspondence between you and the company. Print copies for your records, as well as for the bank and law enforcement;
- Contact your bank – freeze the account in order to prevent any unauthorized withdrawals. Explain the situation, in detail to someone in the bank’s fraud department and provide the supporting documentation about the company you’re involved with; and
- Contact Law Enforcement/File a police report – This will be helpful down the road to show you were tricked into helping this fraudulent individual/company.
Editor’s note: Melissa Romero is the Security Officer and Fraud Investigator for Los Alamos National Bank. She has been with the bank for 22 years.
- Look for the Money IQ column every Wednesday in the Los Alamos Daily Post.