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What is a Money Mule?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 17, 2024
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A money mule is a person who agrees to receive money into his bank account and then transfer it to another account for a percentage. Scammers and money launderers use money mules to complete stolen money transfers. They are usually recruited online or through advertisements for work-at-home jobs. The term “mule” comes from the drug trade, and refers to couriers who carry merchandise between dealers.

Preying on desperate job seekers, scammers offer a job as a payment processor or currency trader. They often claim the transactions are necessary to prevent excessive tax burdens or some other financial snag. The money mule either agrees to receive money into his own account or open a new one for that purpose at a bank specified by the scammer. He then transfers it to an overseas or business account via an untraceable wire and told to keep a percentage of the funds as his compensation. The criminal vanishes with the stolen money, and the money mule is left at the mercy of law enforcement.

Social networking sites, email, newspaper classifieds, and online job boards are frequent targets of criminal schemers seeking someone to serve as a money mule. Scammers troll these sites, placing job ads promising good money for financial positions with little or no experience required. Those who answer the ads are then set up as employees of either a company whose information has been stolen or a fabricated company, and instructed to transfer the funds.

In phishing schemes, the criminals may spoof legitimate businesses to entice the recipient to open an email and include a warning to download a fix so an account will not be disrupted. If successful, malware installs itself on the computer and steals passwords and log-in information. Password information may be requested outright to verify the account. If the recipient complies, funds stolen from the accounts may then go through money mule transfers, making them very hard to trace.

A money mule may not realize he is involved in a criminal enterprise, or he may know and not care. People who participate in this scheme takes great risks. Risks include losing the commissions, paying restitution to those whose money is stolen, a police record, and even jail time. In addition, opening one’s financial identity to scammers increases vulnerability to identity theft.

People can protect themselves from money mule scams by taking care to thoroughly check any job offers received before responding to them in any way. Legitimate businesses should have some traceable history other than a simple website. Offers from overseas may be suspect, since money launderers often establish offshore accounts and are harder to verify. Poorly written emails, rife with grammatical and spelling errors, point to unprofessional and perhaps criminal enterprises. If something sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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