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How fraud victims end up facing criminal charges: Money mules

On Behalf of | Dec 5, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Times have been a little tough lately, so it’s only natural to be excited when your online buddy offers you a side gig that seems easy enough to handle and fairly lucrative.

The odds are high that you’re being asked to help a business or acquaintance complete a financial transaction through your bank account in exchange for a commission. It all seems very simple and sounds perfectly reasonable when the other party explains it to you, but you’re feeling uncomfortable with the situation without knowing why. That’s because you may be picking up on the red flags that indicate you’re being recruited as part of a money laundering scheme – as a “money mule.”

What’s a money mule?

A money mule is someone who is lured into a money laundering operation. They’re used as a conduit to help make the profits of illegal activity, like drug distribution or weapons dealing, look “clean” or legitimate (so that it can then be used). College students with bills to pay and lonely seniors are some of organized crime’s favorite employees.

Once you get trapped into being a money mule, you can find it very difficult to get out of the situation – especially once you realize what kind of people are on the other end of your transactions.

So, how can you avoid falling victim? You have to be conscious of the danger signs:

  • The job pays way too much for far too little effort
  • Your education and prior work experience are irrelevant
  • You are required to use a personal bank account to receive and send money
  • The money is coming from outside the United States
  • You don’t know anything about the “company” that’s hiring you

While the vast majority of money mules have no idea that what they’re doing is wrong and they’re not intentionally doing anything illegal, that’s not always how the authorities see it. You can end up charged with money laundering if they believe that you were either complicit in the process or willfully blind to obvious warning signs of illegal activity. If that happens, it’s prudent to obtain legal guidance as quickly as possible.