Big International Crackdown Against Thousands of “Money Mules”

Written by Bill Toulas
Last updated December 4, 2020

The law enforcement authorities in Europe and the United States have announced the results of their worldwide operations against “money mules,” resulting in the identification and arrest of agents and recruiters. In the U.S., the FBI and the Postal Inspection Service took action against 2,300 money mules, which is almost four times higher than last year’s number.

In Europe, 4,031 money mules were identified alongside 227 recruiters. 1,529 criminal investigations were launched by Interpol, while the total amount of money “saved” before it got irreversibly lost is estimated at €33.5 million.

So, what is a “money mule,” and why was it so hot in 2020? Simply put, a money mule or “smurfer” is a person who acts on behalf of hackers who have stolen money, gift cards, or financial details from a victim, transferring that money via various means and hoping to pass it through an untraceable path. These agents are paid a cut for their service, so they are treated as accomplices of crime from a legal perspective.

The FBI reports that they have even seized a brand new Lamborghini belonging to a money mule this year, so you can get an idea of how much money these agents can make. Among the various types of schemes that were linked to the arrested individuals, there are government imposters, BEC scams, lottery fraud, and grandparents scams.

As Europol points out, accepting to act as a “money mule” even once is often enough to lock the person in the criminal network, as their recruiters are threatening them if they don’t continue to cooperate. If you believe that you might have been exploited for purposes of money laundering, you are advised to report the incident with all the accompanying details to your national police and to also notify your bank.

The increase of the number of “money mules” is to be expected during a year where everything went online in such an aggressive way, forcing many people to do stuff on the internet for the first time. This has created a galore of opportunities for all kinds of malicious actors, and so the need for money laundering services rise to the sky.

If you’re looking for easy money and you are made to believe that “smurfing” isn’t such a bad thing, you may want to reconsider. It is a crime punished with imprisonment and fines, and one that will create a life-long damaging criminal record on you.

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