New Zealanders at risk of being money mules for fraudsters


International crime rings are increasingly targeting New Zealanders’ bank accounts to launder proceeds from scams and fraud.

Bronwyn Groot croppedBronwyn Groot, CFFC's Fraud Education Manager, is highlighting the rising incidence of “money mules” as part of Fraud Awareness Week this week (November 18-24).

A money mule is someone who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of a criminal. Mules are recruited to move money through bank accounts, making it difficult for police to track money stolen from a victim or gained through criminal activity such as drugs, fraud or human trafficking.

Groot says mules fall into three categories – unwitting, witting or complicit. Unwitting mules may be involved in an online scam romance or fake online job, and trust their contact when asked to use their bank account to transfer funds. Witting mules ignore warning signs and continue to move money for people they think they know online, opening multiple bank accounts and possibly keeping a share of the funds. Complicit mules serially open bank accounts to receive money from a variety of unknown individuals or businesses for criminal reasons, keeping a percentage of the money they move and even advertising their services on the dark internet.

Groot says mules are often shocked to discover they may be charged with money laundering and face imprisonment of up to seven years.

“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.”

CFFC in liaison with the Police has drawn up guidelines to help New Zealanders recognise when they might be at risk of becoming a mule, and how to protect themselves. They include:

* Be suspicious when a love interest you meet online wants to use your bank account to receive and forward money.
* Be wary when an employer or investment advisor asks you to form a company in order to open a new bank account, or use your own account to transfer money.
* Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust, especially if you’ve met them online.

If a person thinks they may have been used as a mule, Groot says they should stop all communication with the suspected criminals, keep receipts and contact information and notify the police.

“People of all ages and from all walks of life can become mules,” says Groot. “Students, new migrants, business owners, retirees, you name it. Scammers target them through online job websites, dating and social networking websites and online classifieds.

“Before you visit those kinds of sites, be armed with the knowledge of what to look out for so you don’t end up with a criminal record.”