Money mule scams increase as more people work from home

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The pandemic has people searching for ways to make some extra cash.

In response, fraudsters are advertising fake jobs and are making job seekers money mules.

These are usually unsuspecting victims who could end up in serious trouble.

Anyone can be a money mule, but the FBI says the elderly, college students, and recent immigrants are often targeted.

“It was $3,000, and it kind of hit me back,” Sandra Tucker of Carroll County, Tennessee said. “I thought, well, I’m doing pretty good if I am going to get that kind of money.”

It seemed like a perfect work-from-home opportunity: place a decal on her car for cash.

After Tucker agreed, she was sent a fake $2,800 check and a list of instructions.

“He asked me to cash it, and then he would go into my account and take a certain amount of money out, and I would get the rest,” she said.

Tucker sensed something wasn’t right. She sent the check to the Better Business Bureau, who told her it was a scam.

Fake checks and reshipping scams are just a few ways fraudsters can recruit a victim into becoming a money mule.

A money mule is someone who transfers illegally obtained money or goods to a scammer who doesn’t want to receive them directly.

“They take those ill-got gains and use unsuspecting scam victims to get them their money,” Daniel Irwin with the BBB of the Midsouth said.

With more people looking to work from home, Irwin said these kinds of scams are skyrocketing.

In 2021, his office received reports of 97 money mule scams, with victims losing a total of $70,000.

“You’ll get those funds, but in a couple days, that check will clear, and the bank will realize it’s not a real check. Not only have you sent the money to the scammer, but you’re on the hook for that money and possible maybe in some legal trouble,” Irwin said.

As for Tucker, she said it’s a reminder to vet every extra cash opportunity before agreeing, especially if it requires you to use your bank account to transfer money.

“Don’t do it,” she said. “Something is very wrong. Just be very careful.”

Irwin said victims are often recruited by a new love interest they met online or a prospective employer to receive funds or goods and forward them on.

The BBB says 20 to 30 percent of romance fraud victims are turned into money mules.