People of all ages across New Zealand can unwittingly become money mules for international fraudsters, and many of those targeted are elders.
Now the office of the Retirement Commissioner has partnered with the Police to produce a booklet to help people protect themselves from becoming unwitting accomplices in moving money illegally.
Titled Money Mules – are you working for criminals?, the booklet details who’s at risk, how money mules are recruited either unwittingly or complicitly, how criminals exploit them, the possible consequences, including imprisonment for money laundering, how New Zealanders can protect themselves, and what to do if they think they’ve been used as a money mule.
Bronwyn Groot, Fraud Education Manager at the Retirement Commissioner’s office, the Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC), says the information is in demand as the incidence of scams and fraud increases, and with it the use of victims as money mules.
A money mule is someone who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of a criminal – unknowingly or willingly. Mules are recruited to move money electronically through bank accounts, take it out in cash or buy virtual currency like Bitcoin.
Money mules can be recruited by criminals through a variety of channels including job websites, dating websites, social networking websites and online classifieds. As the incidence of scams and fraud increases, so does the number of victims used as money mules.
“Many online scams involve asking the victim to receive money to ‘look after’ and then transfer it to another account, usually offshore,” says Groot. “In most cases the money has been scammed from someone else and is destined to fund organised crime.”
Groot says mules are often shocked to discover they may be charged with money laundering and face imprisonment of up to seven years. Becoming a money mule can also negatively impact your credit rating and ability to open bank accounts.
If you think you’re 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 Police immediately.
To read and download the booklet, and for more information on how to protect yourself from frauds and scams, go to: cffc.org.nz/money-mules