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Welcome To The Insighter!

Explore the latest happenings at Kirtland FCU and learn about important topics from around the financial world. Here’s your insight!

Is It Love Or Is It Laundering?

08/21/2019
Ashleigh, K-Staff

What do you picture when you think of a “money mule”?
 
Literal interpretations aside, a money mule is a person who is used to transfer and launder illegally acquired money or merchandise (i.e. stolen!) on behalf of or at the direction of another. If you’re a fan of the popular Orange Is The New Black series, you seen an up-close dramatization of a money mule scheme when the main character unwittingly carries drug money onto an international flight.
 
But unlike in the hit series, you don’t have to be in a foreign country to play a money mule role—in fact, you don’t ever have to meet the criminal in person. In this high-tech world, a cyber actor can enter through your computer and, with the right leverage, persuade you to act illegally on their behalf.
 
The FBI recently issued a warning about this particular brand of confidence/romance fraud. Through online dating sites, a criminal finds a mark and begins to build a relationship, to create trust. And leaning on that trust, the cyber actor convinces the mark to open accounts under the guise of sending or receiving funds. If the account is flagged by the financial institution, the cyber actor will either direct the victim to open a new account or choose a new mark and begin again.

In other situations, the fraudster claims to be a European citizen or an American living abroad. After a few months of developing trust, the actor will tell the victim about a lucrative business opportunity.
 
“There are investors willing to fund the project!” says the criminal. “But they need a U.S. bank account to receive funds, and you can help!”
 
The victim is asked to open a bank account or register a limited liability company in the victim’s name and then to receive and send money from that account to other accounts controlled by the fraudster.

Dating sites are popular fishing spots for victims due to the inherent emotional risks that a victim is willing to take. And this isn’t a small scam: in fact, in 2018, the IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) received reports from 18,000 people who claimed to have become victims of confidence/romance fraud. The aggregate losses reached $362 million – an increase of more than 70 percent from 2017.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

The following are warning signs that you’re being targeted in a money mule scam:
  •  A false profile picture. Online dating sites require a profile picture, and most criminals do not use their own faces. You can check where else the image is being used online by running a reverse image check. A photo that appears on several other sites or is tied to older fraud scams is a big red flag. To run a search:  
    • Right click on the image and select “Search for image.”
    • Right click again and select “Save image as” to save the photo to your device.
    • Using a search engine, choose the small camera icon to upload the saved image into the search engine.
  • Inconsistent facts. Most dating sites, while monitoring account activity and investigating complaints, do not conduct background checks for registered accounts. Anyone using a dating site can misrepresent themselves. Grandiose stories, vague answers, and inconsistencies should not be ignored.
  • Immediate attempts to talk or chat outside of the dating site.
  • Claims that your meeting was “destiny” or “fate”. This kind of language could be classic grooming behavior.
  • Contact who claims to be currently living, working, or traveling abroad. This includes stories of military service.
  • A request is made for assistance with personal financial or shipping transactions. Criminals may also report a sudden personal crisis in an attempt to justify the request.
No matter the red flags you see, the FBI advises that you NEVER:
  • Send money to someone you meet online, especially by wire transfer.
  • Provide credit card numbers or bank account information without verifying the recipient’s identity.
  • Share your Social Security number or other personally identifiable information that can be used to access your accounts with someone who does not need to know this information.
WHAT IF YOU BECOME A VICTIM?

Do you suspect you’ve been targeted by a criminal for assistance with illegal activities?
 
If you think you’ve been scammed, there’s no reason to be embarrassed— this scam takes advantage of your trust and willingness to help. But it’s important to take steps to limit damage and make sure the scam is reported
  • Discontinue contact with the criminal and cease any requested activities.
  • Report the activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, your local FBI field office, or both. Contact IC3. Local FBI field offices can be found online.
  • Contact your financial institution immediately upon discovering any fraudulent or suspicious activity and direct them to stop or reverse the transactions.
  • Ask your financial institution to contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent or suspicious transfer was sent.
  • Report the activity to the website where the contact was first initiated.
It can be difficult to say no to someone you trust. But knowing the signs of this scam and how to react can save you a lot of heartbreak
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