Too Good to be True
We’ve all heard the phrase, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Well, unfortunately, this phrase applies largely to many incentive deals, job offers, and even relationships that we may find on the Internet today.
Criminals are always looking for new ways to steal someone else’s money and they’re looking for unsuspecting victims, like you, to help them. Job websites and social media websites (like Facebook and Twitter) are the new tool of choice to find money mules.
The term “money mules” is defined as individuals that are used to launder stolen money, usually from one country to another. Typically, these individuals are not even aware that they are involved in a scam. In this week’s Money IQ, we look at a perfect example of when something is “Too good to be true.”
Times are hard and you’re trying to make a little extra cash. You receive an email for a job opportunity, as a personal assistant for an overseas company that promises to pay a lot of money if you can perform a few simple tasks. The ad reads, “It’s a great opportunity for anyone who wants to work from the comfort of their own home.” It sounds perfect.
You’re asked to fill out an application, providing typical personal information about yourself, Name, Address, Social Security Number, etc. Congratulations! Your past experience is exactly what they’re looking for. They start by having you conduct a few simple tasks, making phone calls on the company’s behalf, writing letters, all the tasks expected of a personal assistant.
Then, you’re asked to open up an account at a local financial institution “to process some of their customer payments.” It’s explained that your new employer will be depositing funds into the account, from overseas, but needs to you pay some bills here in the United States for them.
Furthermore, you will be paid a percentage of each transaction. It all makes sense to you. The account gets opened and funds start coming in. Next,you’re asked to wire funds to an investment company in another state. You go to the bank and complete the wire, as requested.
All goes well. Then, you’re asked to withdraw $9,500.00 cash and send it, via Western Union or MoneyGram, to a new vendor, who you’re told prefers to deal in cash. You’re instructed not to discuss the transaction with anyone at your bank or any of the employees at wire transfer companies for confidentiality reasons.
If anyone asks, “You’re sending funds to a family member who needs your help.” The wires are sent with no issue. You return home and are grateful to see that your “commission” was also deposited. Not bad for a few hours of work.
The next day, you get a call from your bank. They inform you that the funds that were deposited into your new account were stolen and that you are now responsible for the loss. You’ve been scammed. Although this job offer sounded like a great opportunity to make some easy money, you are now a suspect in this fraud case. The police will have a lot of questions for you.
This is just one example of a scam that happens every day. Victims of these scams may not only have their bank accounts closed, but are often held financially responsible for returning the stolen funds. Furthermore, your identity is at risk since you provided all of your personal information on your job application.
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:
- An overseas company requesting someone to transfer funds from the U.S. to another country. There are no laws that prevent foreign companies from transferring funds, legally, to and from the U.S.
- Requesting that a new bank account be opened (or use the employee’s existing account) to receive money from someone they’ve never met
- Being told that as part of the new job, the employee would be expected to accept large sums of money into their bank account
- Wiring funds out of their bank account to people they do not know
- Withdrawing funds and transferring them via a non-bank world-wide money movement system (i.e. MoneyGram or Western Union.) Anytime someone you don’t know requests you send money to them this way, it’s a reason to be cautious!
If you become involved in a money mule scam it means you have been receiving stolen funds and are involved in illegal, fraudulent activity. 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
- Contact Law Enforcement/file a police report – This will be helpful down the road to show you were tricked into helping this fraudulent company
In next week’s Money IQ, we will give another example of a common money mule scam.
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.