Don’t Be A Mule!

Mules on a hill with backpacks

According to the website Spana (, “Mules are one of the most commonly used working animals in the world, highly prized for their hardiness and docile nature.”

Even though mules are hardworking and nice, the FBI doesn’t want you to become one. Huh? It’s true, the FBI just issued another warning in an effort to keep you from being tricked into becoming a mule.

Wait a minute. Surely the FBI doesn’t think you’ll transform yourself into a four-legged offspring of a male donkey and female horse! Of course not. The term “mule” in a legal context means something a little bit different. In particular, the FBI is warning you about becoming a money mule – something that could cause you financial loses and even a jail sentence!

What is a money mule? Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

money mule, sometimes called a “smurfer,” is a person who transfers money acquired illegally (e.g., stolen) in person, through a courier service, or electronically, on behalf of others. Typically, the mule is paid for services with a small part of the money transferred. 1

Let’s look at how the Federal Trade Commission explains a money mule scam:

Money mule scams happen several ways. The story often involves scams related to online dating, work-at-home jobs, or prizes. Scammers send money to you, sometimes by check, then ask you to send (some of) it to someone else. They often want you to use gift cards or wire transfers. Of course, they don’t tell you the money is stolen and they’re lying about the reason to send it. And there never was a relationship, job, or prize. Only a scam.

What happens next? If you deposit the scammer’s check, it may clear but then later it turns out to be a fake check. The bank will want you to repay it. If you give the scammer your account information, they may misuse it. You could even get into legal trouble for helping a scammer move stolen money. 2

In the latest FBI warning, signs that you are a money mule are clearly laid out. Here they are:

Signs You May Be Acting as a Money Mule

  • You receive an unsolicited e-mail or contact over social media promising easy money for little to no effort.
  • The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based e-mail (such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or Outlook).
  • You are asked to open a bank account in your own name, or in the name of a company you form, to receive and transfer money.
  • As an employee, you are asked to receive funds in your bank account and then “process funds” or “transfer funds” via a wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service business (such as Western Union or MoneyGram).
  • You are allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer.
  • Your duties have no specific job description.
  • Your online companion, whom you have never met in person, asks you to conduct financial transactions that they should reasonably be able to do for themselves, and offers to share the proceeds of that transaction with you.
  • Your online companion is adamant that you keep the relationship and the associated financial transactions secret. 3

As we’ve discussed in this blog, ad nauseum, people fall for these scams because the scammer uses one of the three forms of Social Engineering – using fear as a motivator; appealing to our desire to help others; or, tapping into our dreams. Don’t become a victim. Remember the old adage: “If it is seems too good to be true, it probably is!”


2 What’s a money mule scam? | FTC Consumer Information

3 Your Bank Account Could Be Fueling Crime — FBI