Money Mules Facilitate Identity Theft and Fraud

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

Mules are relatively unaware people who get hooked into a “small business” or employment that is a function of a criminal enterprise. The mules often respond to “help wanted” ads from online job placement sites. Shipping scams are a common tactic criminals use in which they employ mules to receive goods bought with stolen credit card numbers, who then ship to people who buy them in online auctions. The mules in this process are essentially facilitating selling hot goods and money laundering.

An RSA study revealed laptops, iPods, iPhones, Nokia smartphones, digital cameras, Sony PlayStation 3 devices, and DJ equipment were among the items shipped to addresses in Russia and Belarus. RSA estimates that more than $36,000 worth of merchandise was cashed out every month before one scam ended earlier this year.

These scams generally have a virtual store front posing as a shipping company, giving the ruse a legitimate appearance. The efficiency of money mule operations has increased due to the amount of money being generated from data breaches and scams.

There have been dozens of significant data breaches over the past few years, in which millions of credit card numbers have been compromised. Once the data is in the hands of a criminal, they scheme to turn it into cash.

Credit card numbers are often bought and sold by “carders” who sell thousands of cards numbers for pennies each. In many cases when a PIN is present the criminal hacker will use the card number as a debit card at any ATM.

But when turning the data into cash isn’t so easy, they will burn the data to a white card and make in store purchases using mules. That can sometimes be a slow and riskier process. Recently, fake shipping scams have proven to be a profitable model that involves leveraging hundreds of naive people.

The mules are often baited into setting up bank accounts that the criminal controls. These bank accounts will be set up under the name of the mule to avoid detection and generally programmed to transfer money overseas in increments of less than $10,000 to avoid detection.

Most mules end up pulling money out of their pockets to front shipping costs with the promise of a big payoff. In the end the mule is often bilked and ends up with an empty bank account.

These scams hurt a lot of people. The banks and retailers lose because money and goods go out the door. The mules often end up losing thousands. And worse, many organized criminals are associated with terrorists groups who use the money to fund violence.

If the credit card companies and banks would adopt widely available technologies that make the data useless to the thief in the form of effective authentication of the user, then none of this would be happening. But until industry changes what I think is “its evil and selfish ways” then they will keep tossing fuel on the fire.

Generally my readers don’t need to be told the following, but maybe someone you know is naive enough to fall for one of these ruses. So keep in mind, if you are looking for a job online and see “shipping manager” or “buy and sell products on eBay with no inventory or money” or anything involving virtual transactions that involves shipping any thing overseas, then chances are it’s a scam. Also, never be suckered into opening a bank account that you don’t control. That’s just plain dumb.

And, protect your identity.

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Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing money mules on Fox News