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Use Horse Sense, Don't Be a Mule

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Have you ever opened your email inbox and seen a request to assist a fledgling company with their accounts receivable or remittances in exchange for a percentage of each transaction? You aren't alone. At this period of global economic stress with increasing percentages of societies unemployed, these offers may be seen as a way to bring a few extra dollars into one's family to help alleviate fiscal stress. Don't. The company may appear legit, but in reality is the front for any number of organized criminal entities. In 2010, money-laundering arrests have included criminal organizations from Central Eurasia, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the EU, Africa and the United States. It's a global issue.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission provides a few words of advice: "Offers that involve transferring money for someone you don't know are nearly always a scam."

What do they look like? Here is an example of a piece soliciting me to become a money mule which recently found its way into my inbox. Read it; the author finds the processing of payments as too stressful:

My name is Owen Geven, a designer and also the Manager of Owen Geven Fabric and Consultant and I live and work here in United Kingdom, Would you like to work online from home and get paid without affecting your present job?

Actually I need a representative who can be working for the company as online book-keeper. We make lots of supplies to some of our clients in the EUROPE/USA/CANADA, for which I do come to USA/CANADA to receive payment and have it cashed after I supply them raw materials. It's always too expensive and stressful for me to come down and receive such payment twice in a month so I therefore decided to contact you.

I am willing to pay you 10% for every payment receives by you from our clients who make payment through you. Please note you don't have to be a book keeper to apply for the job.

Kindly get back to me as soon as possible if you are interested in this job offer with you're:

FULL NAMES...................
ADDRESS (not P.O.box)...
STATE..................
ZIPCODE................
COUNTRY................
PHONE NUMBER(S)........
GENDER.................
AGE....................
OCCUPATION.............

PLEASE SEND YOUR REPLY ASAP TO: (a web based email account from an ISP in Japan)

So how can we keep ourselves safe? Learn the tell tale signs that you're being asked to become a mule:

• Keep this offer secret.
• Respond to this offer right now.
• Protecting the company from taxes associated with international sales remittance
• Are you asked to spend your money?
• You are requested to open or provide any information associated with your bank accounts

UK's Bank Safe Online sums up the situation with:

If you see an opportunity to make some easy money and the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably is! Remember that even if you have nothing to do with the actual extraction of funds from another person's account, by allowing your account to be used to receive and transfer such funds, you will be acting illegally.

And therein lies the serious aspects of this seemingly innocuous offer to process funds; you become their money mule, illegally transferring their money. When the criminals behind this scheme are discovered, if you served as their money mule, you too will be amongst those prosecuted. This is not exactly the solution to alleviating that fiscal stress. So use some horse sense, and don't become a mule.

For additional reading:

UK's Bank Safe Online: Money Mule Explained

Australia's Scam Watch

US's Financial Crimes Enforcement Effort

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