For many of us, the holidays are a time for giving. For fraudsters, however, it’s prime time for stealing money or personal information from unsuspecting victims. If you want to have a worry-free season, protecting yourself against their latest tactics is an important and necessary step.
One scam that is currently on the rise, and is increasing rapidly as the holiday season approaches, is known as the “money mule” scheme. This type of fraud not only puts cash into the hands of the criminal, but could also put you at risk of going to prison. Here’s what you need to know to safeguard yourself.
When it comes to stealing money, fraudsters don’t always work alone. In fact, many try to bring you, their target, in on the scheme and make you do the majority of the work—leaving you behind to pay hefty fines or even do jail time. This twisted tactic is known as a “money mule” scheme.
A “money mule” is a person who has been recruited by a criminal to launder stolen cash or goods, or even to steal debit or credit card information from you to perpetrate fraud. For the most part, money mules are duped into committing fraud, but sometimes they are enticed to willingly participate when the criminal promises them a big payoff. Whether you’re an unwitting victim or not, you can still face severe repercussions if you’re sucked into a money mule scam. You may:
One of the best ways you can avoid falling into this trap is to familiarize yourself with the warning signs, which may not always be easy to spot. Keep your eyes peeled for these common types of money mule scams:
“Card cracking,” also known as “card popping,” is a ploy criminals use to target people who are in need of cash and trick them into facilitating fraud. It all starts with what seems to be a harmless post on social media outlets like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter that promises fast cash. After luring you in with the tempting deal, the con artist then fools you into giving them your financial account information, debit card number/PIN or online banking login credentials in exchange for a kickback (i.e., a small portion of illicit profits). They may also direct you to contact your financial institution and advise them that you will be traveling, even if you’re not. The fraudster uses that information to deposit counterfeit checks into your account and allows you to keep a portion of the money. The fraudster then quickly withdraws all the money from your funds before the financial institution catches on to the phony check. You are then forced to call the financial institution and falsely report that your information has been compromised—without mention that you gave the criminal your credentials—and ask that your money be returned, making you an accessory to the crime. Not only that, but you are also now on the hook for the stolen funds and may even be sentenced to time in prison.
Work-from-home schemes are bogus job offers that have been crafted to appear legitimate. You can typically encounter them in spam emails, on job search websites or on social networking sites. In actuality, these “opportunities” are just bait used by fraudsters to excite you and trick you into providing your account details so they can send you a large counterfeit check. (Sometimes no account information is provided; a check is just mailed to you with further instructions.) You’re then asked to transfer that money to a third party, usually located in a foreign country, through a wiring service for a small commission. The criminals may even go as far as inviting you for an interview or asking you to sign an employment contract. You may think you’ve scored the job of a lifetime, but the truth is that you will never get paid. Not only that, but now that your personal information has been stolen, you run the risk of losing money or being arrested.
Romance scams involve phony online relationships that deceive the victim into handing over their cash. Here’s how it works: A criminal posts a fake profile and photographs on a dating website or social media platform, posing as someone looking for a relationship. When they find you—their target—on those sites, they engage you in romantic conversations through email, messages or chat sessions. Once they’ve won your trust and you’ve established a long-term online “relationship” with them, the person who claims to be “in love” with you tells you they have a problem and need you to send/receive money or packages on their behalf. Once you agree to push those items from one place to another, you’ve been caught in the money mule web.
To learn more about money mule schemes and other fraud threats, check out VyStar’s Protection Center or call us at (904) 777-6000 or 1 (800) 445-6289, option 9.
Leave a comment below and tell us what types of scams you’re most afraid of falling victim to!
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.