Job Scams: Money Mules
Do you have a resume posted online on Monster.com and other jobs websites? Or do you use CraigsList or eBay? If so, you are probably bombarded by a variety of emails that look, at first glance, like legitimate job offers. S
A money mule is a person who transfers (stolen) money in person, through a courier service, or electronically (such as via Western Union Moneygrams), on behalf of others. The mule is paid for their services, typically a small part of the money transferred. Money mules are often students, housewives and unemployed people recruited on-line for what they think is a legitimate job, not realizing that the money they are transferring comes from a criminal. The money is transferred from the mule's account to the scam operator, typically in another country and often using Western Union. Similar techniques are used to transfer illegal merchandise.
How does it work?
The scam job offer will typically involve "payment processing", "escrow", or a "financial manager" role. The prospective employee is asked to accept direct deposits into his bank account, and make out payments via a wire service such as Western Union MoneyGram. Legitimate companies would never do this; they use escrow services for this kind of work. The inbound payments may also involve some other means, such as payment by check/cheque, especially if the recipient lives in a country (such as the USA) in which it's relatively easy to fool someone into accepting a fake check, as the check appears to "clear", but the bank reports 4 to 6 weeks later that the check was a fake, and takes the money back out of the victim's account.) Outbound payments, on the other hand, are almost always made by Western Union or Money Gram wire transfer services. These are hard to trace, and can't be reversed (unlike direct deposits or cheque payments).
What to look for in a Money Mule Scam ("Payment processing manager")
The job offer usually comes from an overseas company (UK, Canada, Nigeria, Russia, etc.) that wants your assistance to do business in your country. Scammers are very good at appearing authentic. They will quite often copy genuine logos, images and branding from company websites and emails. The written content of the email or advertisement is often written in poor English, including lots of grammatical errors, syntactical and spelling mistakes; BUT be careful: just because the spelling is OK doesn't mean it is legitimate. Scammers are conmen who are getting smarter and more polished. Job titles like "payment processing agents," "money transfer agents," "local processors," etc. ought to be a red flag.
The job involves "payment processing" or "escrow": accepting money in one form, then sending it (minus a percentage, "for your trouble") to your employers via Western Union or Money Gram. The payments the victim accepts are usually fraudulent or stolen, and are likely to be reversed, while the payments made by the victim to his/her employers , being sent via Western Union, are gone and cannot be recovered.
The "Jobs Mule" / "US Representative" or "Agent"
Another variation is the "goods mule". It is less common but works in a similar fashion. The senders often target job seekers under some sort of disguise, such as official 'US representatives' or 'agents' working for an overseas company. The employee is a "shipping manager" or similar, and the job involves being a middle-man for purchased goods. The employer arranges for goods to be delivered to the employee/victim, and the employee is responsible for sending these goods back to the employer or to a "customer" by bulk freight, often to Africa, and usually on the pretext that this process saves money over having all the goods shipped individually. It sounds plausible, but the problem is that the goods are usually being obtained fraudulently, such as by stolen credit cards. And, of course, handling fraudulently obtained goods, whether knowingly or unwittingly, is still a crime.
Money mules are complicit, and risk criminal prosecution and long jail sentences. Ignorance is not an excuse.
Related scams are: Advance-fee fraud and Money laundering