More than 400 people have been arrested following a three-month global investigation into money laundering schemes, Europol disclosed today.
The European Money Mule Action ‘EMMA 6’ identified 4,031 money mules and 227 money mule recruiters, and resulted in 422 individual arrests between September and November 2020.
“During the span of the operation, 1 529 criminal investigations were initiated,” Europol said. “With the support of the private sector including more than 500 banks and financial institutions, 4 942 fraudulent money mule transactions were identified, preventing a total loss estimated at €33.5 million.”
What is a money mule?
Transferring illegally obtained money between bank accounts can be a problem for cybercriminals who wish to cover their tracks, so they recruit unsuspecting individuals to do the dirty work for them. The recruitment phase may involve romance scams, remote job listings, and even easy-money advertisements on social media platforms.
The duped or “hired” individual will then receive money in their bank account from the scammer, and asked to transfer the funds to another party or make withdrawals that are later passed to others.
The law enforcement agency also said that, “although some COVID-19 related cases have been reported, payment process compromise and romance scams continue to be the most recurrent schemes,” with a particular increase in the use of cryptocurrencies by money mules.
Making matters worse, even if the money mules only unwittingly aid the criminals in their money laundering schemes, they may still face criminal charges. Additionally, the money mule may endanger himself financially by providing personal information, or suffer physical attacks and threats if they stop cooperating with the perps.
Europol recommends individuals who suspect they might be part of such an illegal operation “stop transferring money and notify your bank and your national police immediately.”