Let’s say someone asked to use your bank account, and in return they’d leave you some funds. Would red flags go off in your mind? Hopefully they would for all of us.

Criminals need to secretly move funds from their scams, drug running and human trafficking. And in order to get as many “layers” between them and the cops as they can, they funnel it through many different bank accounts. This is where money mules come in.

What’s a money mule?

A mule is someone who “carries” money – knowingly or not – for a criminal. After the funds land in their account, they may end up transferring it electronically, taking it out in cash or buying virtual currency like Bitcoin.

Some mules are more aware of what’s happening than others. Some may not even suspect that their account is being used by criminals to transfer money and cover up the fact that it’s illegal. That’s what “laundering” is: making illegal funds seem clean and legit.

But depending how much money we’re talking about, mules can get up to seven years in prison for receiving funds from criminal proceeds. You might get all your bank accounts immediately shut down, get your identity stolen or have to pay back victims yourself.

It’s a big deal. So we need to protect our bank accounts and make sure this doesn’t happen.

It’s often not obvious

It rarely plays out like the question above, with someone asking you directly to use your bank account. It would be more like, would red flags go up if you worked for a company that requested to move money through your bank account? It can become part of one of those “work from home” schemes you see online.

Criminals recruit money mules on social media, online dating, online classifieds, job-seeking sites. They typically target uni students, migrants, small business owners, recent retirees, lonely folks and job seekers. But anyone with a bank account can be in their sights.

You may be a money mule if:

  • You received an unsolicited email or contact over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
  • The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based email like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail or Outlook.
  • You are asked to open a bank account in your own name or in the name of a company you form to receive and transfer money.
  • As an employee, you are asked to receive funds in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds”.
  • You are allowed to keep some of the money you transfer.
  • Your duties have no specific job description.
  • Your online contact, whom you have never met in person, asks you to receive money and then forward funds to someone you don’t know.

How to protect yourself

  • Never ever give your financial details to someone you don’t know or trust, especially if you met them online.
  • Be suspicious when the love interest you met online wants to use your bank account for receiving and forwarding money.
  • Remember, a real company will never ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money. Do not accept any job offers that ask you to do this.
  • Be wary when an employer asks you to form a company in order to open up a new bank account.
  • Be wary when job advertisements are poorly written with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
  • Search online for all the companies or individuals named in the emails and contacts.
  • Ask the “employer” to send you a copy of their licence/permit to conduct business in New Zealand.

If you think you may be a money mule

  • Contact your bank immediately.
  • Stop all communication with suspected criminals.
  • Stop transferring any money or valuable items.
  • Keep all receipts, contacts and communications, such as texts, emails or chats.
  • Notify NZ Police immediately. Report all non-urgent suspicious activity to police.govt.nz/home or dial 105.

It’s a wild west out there – keep your bank account safe!

For more about money mules and staying safe, see cffc.org.nz/money-mules.

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