December 04, 2019
What is a money mule?
A money mule is any individual who transfers funds, in any manner, on behalf of, or at the direction of another. Money mules are recruited by criminals to move funds via a variety of methods including:
- Physical currency (cash)
- Bank transfers
- Money services businesses
- Pre-paid cards
Individuals acting as a money mule may have received unsolicited emails or other communications containing a job offer promising easy money, have been requested to open a bank account in their name or the name of a business they have created, and/or have been asked to receive funds and then forward all or a portion of the funds on to another individual.
Individuals may be solicited for money mule activity via confidence fraud/romance fraud, employment scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams, lottery scams, or through any number of internet-enabled scams.
Anyone is able to be recruited to be a money mule; however, targeted populations include the elderly, college-aged students, and newly immigrated individuals. Cyber-expertise or knowledge is not required—the money mule will be directed on which banks to go to, how many and what type of accounts to open, and how much money should be included in each withdrawal or subsequent transaction.
Communications via a dating website may include establishing a trusting relationship and promising marriage before asking for financial assistance due to a job crisis or healthcare crisis.
Exchange students and new immigrants may receive threatening emails purported to be from Chinese government officials demanding payment in order to secure one’s identity and prevent deportation1.
Money mules can be categorized into three main groups: unwitting/unknowing, witting, and complicit.
Unwitting or unknowing mules are not aware that they are involved in a bigger criminal scheme. These individuals are typically recruited via romance scams2 and are asked to receive funds into a personal bank account. The money mule is told to keep a portion of the funds that they receive as a gift or payment for their trouble. Generally, these individuals genuinely believe that they are helping someone who is acting as their romantic partner or employer3.
Witting mules ignore warning signs of criminal activity or are willfully blind to the financial activity they are participating in. They may have received warnings from bank personnel but continue to open multiple accounts. These individuals generally begin as an unwitting mule.
Complicit mules are aware of their role as a money mule and complicit in the larger criminal scheme. They might regularly open bank accounts at various institutions with the intention of receiving illicit funds. They may also openly advertise their services as a money mule and actively recruit others.
Whether aware or not, money mules facilitate the laundering of criminally derived money.
Consequences for Acting as a Money Mule
Individuals acting as money mules are putting themselves at risk for identity theft, personal liability, negative impacts on credit scores, and the inability to open bank accounts in the future. Furthermore, they and their families could be threatened by criminals with violence or be physically attacked if they do not continue to work as a money mule.
In addition, these individuals face prison sentence, a fine or community service.
Particularly in the United States, potential Federal charges include: Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Bank Fraud, Money Laundering, Transactional Money Laundering, Prohibition of Unlicensed Money Transmitting Business, and Aggravated Identity Theft. These charges come with fines reaching $1,000,000.00 and up to 30 years in prison.
Tips for Protection
If you believe you are being used as a money mule:
- STOP communicating with the suspected criminal
- STOP transferring funds or items of value
- Maintain receipts, contact information, and communications (emails, text messages, voicemails) so the information may be passed to law enforcement
- Notify Law Enforcement
- Notify your bank or payment provider
To prevent yourself from being recruited as a money mule:
- Do not accept job offers that ask you to receive company funds into your personal account or ask you to open a business bank account
- Be suspicious if a romantic partner asks you to receive or transfer funds from your account
- Do not provide your financial details to someone you do not know
- Conduct online searches to corroborate any information provided to you
For additional information on Money Mules, please view:
FBI Money Mule Awareness Booklet:
Europol public awareness and prevention guide on Money Muling:
For additional information on internet-enabled crime, please visit:
Questions regarding this PSA should be directed to your local FBI Field Office.
Local Field Office Locations: www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field