Hundreds of money mules arrested in global money laundering crackdown

Law enforcement authorities from 26 countries conducted a worldwide operation against money mule schemes.

In Q4 2020, law enforcement authorities from 26 countries and Europol, in European Money Mule Action EMMA 6, a worldwide operation against money mule schemes, identified 4,031 money mules alongside 227 money mule recruiters, and arrested 422 individuals globally.  

During the span of the operation, 1,529 criminal investigations were initiated. With the support of the private sector including more than 500 banks and financial institutions, 4,942 fraudulent money mule transactions were identified, preventing a total loss estimated at €33.5 million (US$40.7 million).

The operation was carried out between September and November 2020 for the sixth consecutive year with the support of the European Banking Federation (EBF), FinTech FinCrime Exchange, INTERPOL and Western Union. 

Don’t become a link in the money laundering chain

Money mules are individuals who, often unwittingly, have been recruited by criminal organizations as money laundering agents to hide the origin of ill-gotten money. Unaware that they are engaging in criminal activities, and tricked by the promise of easy money, mules transfer stolen funds between accounts, often in different countries, on behalf of others. In exchange, they receive a commission for their services. 

While mules are recruited via numerous routes such as direct contact or through email, criminals are more and more turning to social media to recruit new accomplices, through the advertisement of fake jobs offers (e.g., money transfer agents), online pop-up ads and instant messaging applications. Although some COVID-19 related cases have been reported, payment process compromise and romance scams continue to be the most recurrent schemes. The use of cryptocurrencies by money mules is also on the rise. 

In early December, Europol and EU law enforcement authorities together with international partners and financial institutions will launch the #DontBeaMule campaign to raise awareness among the public on the risks of money mule schemes.

The campaign, promoted nationally by competent authorities, will aim to inform the public about how criminals operate, how they can protect themselves and what to do if they become involved.

What do you risk as a money mule?

  • Physical attacks or threats if you don’t continue to cooperate with the criminals;
  • Prison sentence, fine or community service;
  • A criminal record that could seriously affect the rest of your life such as never being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.
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