Department of Justice, FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and five
other federal law enforcement agencies announced the completion of the
fourth annual Money Mule Initiative,
which targeted networks of individuals through which international
fraudsters obtain proceeds of fraud schemes. These individuals,
sometimes referred to as money mules, receive money from fraud victims
and forward the illicit funds, often to overseas perpetrators.
By receiving and transferring illicit funds, money mules facilitate a
wide range of fraud schemes, including those that often predominately
impact older Americans — like romance scams and lottery fraud — and
those that target companies through business e-mail compromise schemes.
Money mules also assist the theft of funds earmarked for pandemic
relief, including unemployment insurance and small business loan funds.
Some money mules are aware that their actions facilitate international
fraud schemes. Others, however, first interact with fraud schemes as
victims and may be unaware that their actions are furthering criminal
U.S. law enforcement took action to address 4,750 money mules over
the last 10 weeks; enforcement actions occurred in every state in the
country. These actions more than doubled the number of actions taken
during last year’s effort.
Agencies are also conducting outreach to educate the public about how
fraudsters use money mules and how to avoid unknowingly assisting fraud
by receiving and transferring money.
“Without money mules, many foreign fraudsters targeting American
consumers, businesses and pandemic relief funds could not reap the
proceeds of their schemes,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita
Gupta. “The department and its partners will use every tool at our
disposal — consumer education, disruption and prosecution — to cripple
foreign fraudsters’ ability to get money from victims’ pockets to
perpetrators’ bank accounts.”
Law Enforcement Actions
The department’s Consumer Protection Branch and the FBI led the
initiative with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Other participating
agencies were the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations
(HSI), Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, U.S.
Secret Service and U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax
Administration. The campaign was conducted simultaneously with a Europol initiative,
the European Money Mule Action (EMMA). Additionally, in several
districts, including the District of Arizona and the Northern District
of Georgia, federal law enforcement have been working closely with their
state and local law enforcement counterparts.
“This year’s Money Mule Initiative successfully halted the activity
of hundreds of money mules worldwide thanks to the persistence and
partnership of the FBI and our federal, state, local and international
partners,” said Executive Assistant Director Brian Turner of the
FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. “Money mules make
it easier for criminals to hide their activity, and harder for law
enforcement to follow their tracks. Today’s announcement is an
unmistakable warning for those who move money for criminal enterprises:
even if you don’t know you’re committing a crime, acting as a money mule
is illegal and punishable, and the FBI and our partners will use all
available tools to disrupt the flow of funds to criminal networks.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service takes great pride in our history
of protecting the public from being deceived by scammers,” said Chief
Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
“We work hard to safeguard vulnerable consumers through aggressive
criminal investigations, as well as proactive consumer outreach, as part
of our mission to protect those who might fall victim to cleverly
designed deceptive offers. The Money Mule Initiative is another example
of our law enforcement commitment, and that of our law enforcement
partners, to vigorously pursue individuals who knowingly or unknowingly
participate in criminal activity of this nature; bring them to justice
and stop them in their tracks from victimizing the American public.”
The thousands of actions taken by law enforcement ranged from warning
letters to civil and administrative actions, to criminal prosecutions.
Law enforcement served approximately 4,670 letters warning individuals
that their actions were facilitating fraud schemes. These letters
outlined the potential consequences for transferring money acquired
illegally. Civil or administrative actions were filed against 11
individuals, and through seizures and voluntary return of funds, law
enforcement obtained nearly $3.7 million in fraud proceeds.
Additionally, more than 30 individuals were criminally charged for
their roles in receiving and forwarding victim payments or otherwise
laundering fraud proceeds. These cases included:
- The Consumer Protection Branch and U.S. Attorney’s Office for
the Central District of California charged four individuals who
laundered gift cards purchased by fraud victims.
- Two U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the District of Rhode Island and the
Western District of Pennsylvania, indicted individuals who, among other
conduct, personally collected money from grandparent scam victims.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee
charged an individual who facilitated the theft of unemployment
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
indicted a ring of individuals who laundered money for romance scams and
business email compromise fraud schemes.
The charges also consisted of cases brought against individuals
who facilitated business email compromise schemes, including charges
brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of
Virginia, the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Western District of
Kentucky. Additional charges were brought against money mules by U.S.
Attorney’s Offices for the Northern District of Georgia, the Eastern
District of Louisiana, and the District of Nebraska.
Criminal charges are merely allegations. Defendants are presumed
innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a
court of law.
Community Outreach and Prevention
Agencies also turned their attention to educating the public about
how fraudsters recruit individuals to serve as money mules, signs of
money mule activity and steps that should be taken if someone has
unknowingly facilitated fraud by moving money.
These efforts included:
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service created fliers that were
displayed in post offices across the country during the Money Mule
- FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) released a money mule public service announcement.
- The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General provided information about money mule activity to state work force agencies.
- The Department’s Elder Justice Coordinators educated their communities about money mule’s activity.
- Members of the Attorney General’s Coronavirus Fraud Enforcement
Task Force used outreach materials created by the Pandemic Response
Accountability Committee (PRAC) to educate the public about the use of
money mules to steal pandemic relief funds.
Other government agencies joining the public awareness effort
included the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which created new money mule scam awareness materials,
as well as the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration
for Community Living and AmeriCorps Seniors. By increasing awareness of
money mule activity, these efforts and others sought to prevent
individuals from becoming involved in money mule activity.
For more information on money mules, please visit https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch/money-mule-initiative.
Information about the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud Initiative is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice. Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its elder fraud enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of
financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline:
The Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task
Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in
partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat
and prevent pandemic-related fraud. For more information on the
department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving
COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National
Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF
Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.