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The Courts

FBI To Prosecute "Money Mules" 215

An anonymous reader writes "A top FBI official said today that the agency is planning a law enforcement sweep against so-called 'money mules,' individuals willingly or unwittingly roped into helping organized computer crooks launder money stolen through online banking fraud, writes Krebsonsecurity.com. The author says he has interviewed more than 150 money mules, and find most fit into one of two camps: the not-so-bright, and those who suspect something's not right, but do it anyway. From the story: 'I find most mules fit into the latter group, and you can usually tell because these individuals often will admit to having set up a new account for the job separate from where they keep their meager savings or checking. When pressed as to why they did this, if they're honest most will say they weren't sure about the whole arrangement and wanted to protect their investments just in case their employers turned out to be less-than-honest.'"
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FBI To Prosecute "Money Mules"

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  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @05:52PM (#32187126) Homepage Journal

    I find it funny that no-one ever reports the most interesting part of these scams. Most of the time they money they are laundering is stolen by botnets. These same botnets often send spam that includes some amount of recruitment of money mules. Some of these "work from home" scams involve people putting up posters and yard signs to recruit money mules. The entire scam is facilitated and organized by an automatic distributed computer program. It's like a huge ants nest. The workers don't really know what they're doing, but the network maintains their motivation to keep doing it. The strangest part of all is that often these systems are so resilient that they keep going long after the head has been cut off by law enforcement. Somewhere there's probably accounts bursting with money funneled there by unthinking dupes acting as part of an unconscious mechanism.

  • Re:financial fraud? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OldeTimeGeek ( 725417 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @06:03PM (#32187240)
    This makes sense.

    A high-profile well-publicized investigation may make people more aware of the tactics that fraudsters use to recruit mules and could decrease the pool of people available purposes of laundering ill-gotten gains. It also serves the purpose of potentially scaring off mules that are very aware that they are laundering money for someone else but are nervous of being investigated by the Feds...
  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @06:34PM (#32187460)

    Why wouldn't you just keep the money? The bad guys are half a world a way and have no way to call the cops as if they would to begin with.

    Whenever I've heard of these kinds of scams (including a related one involving physical goods they send you and you ship overseas) I always wondered why people were so honest and actually went through with it instead of just keeping the money.

    It'd be like Bernie Madoff walking up to you with a suitcase of cash, asking you to go deposit it at some bank across town. Yeah, sure, Bernie. I'll call you when I'm done.

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @06:56PM (#32187650)

    You know... if stupidity was illegal just about everyone would be prosecuted.

    I always thought that intent was important when being charged with a crime.

    Once upon a time that was true. I just read a column that talked about how over the last few years (5-20, I don't remember the time frame more closely than that) more and more laws don't take any notice of intent. I wish I could remember where I saw it.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:24PM (#32187860)

    Only when there was reasonable expectation that the goods were stolen. If you acted in good faith you don't get prosecuted, you just lose your stuff.

    Hell, sometimes you get to keep the stuff. I know a car dealer that purchased an exotic (acura NSX) from some dude. Turns out that "some dude" stole it from the real owner via fraud - gave the guy a bogus cashiers check and his bank sat on it for a month before telling him it was bogus. After tracking the car down at the behest of the original owner, the FBI 'declined' to confiscate the car, instead left it up to the local DA, who let the dealer keep it. The only way the real owner got compensated was because his insurance eventually paid for it because it was theft.

  • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @08:02PM (#32188088)

    Money laundering, even if it is unknown to the person doing the laundering, is an accessory to a crime. You are helping them "clean" the money they have already stolen.

    Unless you intended to make a very subtle distinction between a lack of knowledge of money laundering specifically versus a general lack of knowledge of a criminal act, I vehemently disagree. There is no such thing as a "strict liability" accessory crime in the United States.

    Accessory statutes descending from English legal tradition, such as those in the U.S., require at least some form of knowledge of a criminal act [google.com] (just not necessarily the criminal act committed by the principal). Do you know why? Because if being an accessory to say, money laundering, was a strict liability offense, then in the following:

    A. Money launderer obtains proceeds of criminal endeavor
    B. Money launderer buys plasma TV at Best Buy
    C. Money launderer sells plasma TV on eBay to an arms-length buyer at market price.

    all of Best Buy, eBay, and buyer are accessories to a felony. Full stop. This is patently ridiculous -- nobody could buy anything from an ordinary third party, or arguably broker a third party sale, for fear of becoming an accessory to a criminal act. Anything not purchased from the OEM would be suspect to varying degrees, and if your due diligence was both reasonable and wrong then you'd still an accessory.

    The distinction the FBI is drawing is between those few who cannot be charged because they just didn't suspect ("are simply not the sharpest crayons in the box and really did get bamboozled"), and those who can be charged because they had some form of knowledge and intent (as evidenced by things like separating their own funds from the funds they were handling). Mere sympathy does not excuse those in the first group from criminal liability -- the lack of of a sufficient mens rea excludes them from criminal liability.

  • Re:But wait (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @08:09PM (#32188142) Journal

    I know they can't-- This is kind of thing is the very heart of the economy at large. It quite literally is untouchable. What's being done here to the people they are after is entrapment, or very close to it. And a convenient public distraction.

  • In fact, it's the #1 mistake that small businesses and sole proprietors make, and the #1 way small businesses have their corporate veil pierced.

    If you have an LLC, you are only protected as long as you maintain your corporate veil. This REQUIRES that you have completely separate bank accounts, tax ID numbers, accounting databases, and everything. Commingling of personal and business assets is the first thing a lawyer will look for when he's trying to get to your personal assets (like your house, savings, 401k, etc) through suing your small business.

    Furthermore, if you have business insurance, it will NOT COVER YOU if your corporate veil is successfully pierced. Business insurance only covers legitimate business activities, and commingling your personal and business assets means your business is not strictly business.

    So, you would be in the "not-so-bright" category for sure if you did NOT get a separate account.

    Getting a separate account does not mean you know you're doing something wrong. It means you know you are doing something RIGHT.

  • Re:What? (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @09:14PM (#32188544)

    not anymore they have laws where if you do something without knowing your doing something your guilty. i know a man who bought a car with a legal title or so he thought. turns out that the title was to a different car and had 5 previous owners and he was charged with possessing a car stolen 15 years ago. for unknowingly buying a car that the only way it was found out was becuase the car broke down and they had to replace the entire engine and found out that two of the three vin numbers were replaced.

  • by NewsWatcher ( 450241 ) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @11:21PM (#32189254)

    I am a journalist, and once interviewed a guy who received an email telling him he could make $500 if he sent them his bank details.

    He had a vacant account and figured, 'what do I have to lose?' so sent them the details.

    He received a second email saying that they were going to deposit $1000 and he had to just forward $500 to an account with the details they sent him.

    In a few days sure enough, $1000 ended up in his account and he forwarded on the $500.

    He then got an email saying that because things went so well, they would up the amount.

    They sent him $40,000 and asked him to keep $5000, sending $35,000 to a nominated account.

    He went ahead and did it, and then he contacted the authorities.

    He was never prosecuted, and he never heard whether anyone else was, but hey, he got to keep the $5,500.

    Never did he receive any more emails from the group though.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @11:29PM (#32189292) Homepage Journal

    Hehe.. that's not how the scam works. They might send you some money, but they say, "we want you to buy 20 domain names and we'll pay you X amount for each of them". When they detect that the domain names have been bought, they send you the money. Now you can cash out, but why would you? You can reinvest and keep buying domain names. Someone else is selling domain names. "They" == a botnet.

  • by baileydau ( 1037622 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @12:38AM (#32189584)

    Except that such separation is merely common (and prudent) business practice. If it isn't your money why would you not keep it in a separate account?


    Even if this were a perfectly legal thing, I would personally do it via a separate account just to keep my personal finances separate from my business finances.

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @02:26AM (#32189954)

    Yes. In Missouri, in 2003, a 35-year-old man was convicted of statutory rape and unlawful sexual deviancy with a minor (or similiar) when he was raped, at gunpoint, by a 16-year old male, and sent to prison. I don't have the case numbers on hand, just the article from the KC Star.

    Yes, when HE WAS A RAPE VICTIM.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @03:36AM (#32190190)

    Not being drawn into a con is one thing. Giving convincing reasons why is quite another, much more difficult.

    Case in point: I (IQ around 157) recently tried to explain to an old acquaintance (IQ guessed at least above 130) why no, I wouldn't join his well-known multi-level marketing scheme (which is not even illegal, just IMHO a ripoff), even if he did fairly well for himself, and I could too share in the "business opportunity".

    Unfortunately, a person's personal view of right and wrong often comes into play, with rationalisation only used after the fact to justify the emotional thinking (no, I'm probably no different). Another factor is personality: a person who wants to be obliging and pleasant finds it more difficult to say no, even if it will go against his better judgement.

    Stuff that. I guess I have to learn to say NO, like any callous bastard, without giving reasons...

    (Posting AC to protect the guilty.)

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@@@carpanet...net> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:59AM (#32191470) Homepage

    I actually had some fun with this a while back.

    I got a scammer hitting me up when I posted an ad for a room. I had seen this trick before, so I just went along and kept my ad up.

    They sent a pack of money orders, nice ones. I never acknowledged they arrived. He sent another pack.

    Then I told him that I knew what was up, and I had seen better forgeries (the last scammer who tried this same act). He immediately dropped that and decided to try and recruit me! "I need packages sent out from a US address. We send you a package of envelopes, all you have to do is mail them and we will pay you $500". He also asked if I was interested in buying counterfeit currency. This man was a real entrepreneur.

    I agreed of course, more "wall paper" as you say. Now, I figured they would be smart enough to have a few "canaries" on there so that they could tell if I actually sent out the envelopes or not, and would want to not pay me if I didn't send them out (since there was no way in hell) so i tried to talk them into putting the money in the package for payment upfront. I even offered to take payment in the counterfeit bills, at a premium of course.

    I chickened out when he wanted my phone number to talk on the phone. I should have gotten a skype line and continued. I really wanted to rip off a scammer. What was he going to do, call the police?


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