on 10-12-2018 09:28 AM - last edited on 25-01-2019 09:04 AM by JulieKhoo
It’s more than just an Internet romance...
The lover’s tale
Abigail thinks she’s in love. It must be love. She’s been looking for love for a while and Elliot seems like the perfect guy. Many of her friends have warned her about internet romances but Elliot’s different. He has never asked her for money. Never asked her for anything. She thinks he might be quite wealthy in fact. He is always moving money around. He’s been struggling lately though. So, she’s been helping him transfer money to his accounts. For some reason, he’s having issues sending money to his overseas account. Abigail doesn’t really know the reasons why, nor does she question it. It all seems too complicated, and as long as it’s not her money she’s transferring over, it must be okay… besides he’s committed to the relationship. He said they will be together soon.
Over the past couple of weeks Abigail’s been transferring money for Elliot’s family and friends. They are all preparing for a big holiday and need the money ready to meet them. It’s not much – a couple of hundred here and there. Now he’s asked for her help to transfer funds from the sale of his property in Australia.
Just a few days ago, Abigail received $250,000 to her account. She’s not meant to transfer everything over to him though. Elliot told her that while he was excited to have sold his house, he needs to move the money in parts to avoid government taxes. He’s asked her to transfer just under $10,000 at a time, over several days, because that way it doesn’t trigger any alerts. Abigail doesn’t completely understand the reasoning, but Elliot is good to her. He said they will meet face-to-face now that he has sold his house, and she is excited to finally put a face to her love.
For the third day in a row she has made the transfer. Something strange has happened though, all her accounts have now been frozen, and her bank keeps leaving messages to call them back.
The practitioner’s tale
Meanwhile your client, Grace, is frantic. She hasn’t received her house’s sale proceeds yet. It’s been a couple of days; how has this happened? You arranged the transfer of the money according to her instructions which you received just before finalising the payment. You look back at the details and see the account name Abigail King and a different BSB – not your client’s.
Wait. What’s happening?
Going back through the email trail you realise that there’s something funny about the email address. The instruction did not come from Grace. Blood drains from your face… you call the bank immediately to try and stop the funds from disappearing. Hopefully it’s not too late.
The Hacker’s tale
Meanwhile, Elliot is busy moving money around several of his accounts across the world and connecting with different people online. While he’s looking for a way to gain access to steal the funds, he has also been cultivating internet romances with men and women to transfer the funds outside of Australia. He loves living in the internet era where crimes can be performed anonymously, and no-one ever has to see his face. On the internet you can pretend to be whoever you want, and a lot of people believe you.
Unfortunately, the above scenario is all too common. Cyber criminals often use middlemen to transfer stolen money to their accounts. These middlemen are real people, with real accounts and they don’t have unusual bank account activity. Known as money mules, they are sometimes recruited or deceived into helping cyber criminals carry out these crimes. Offenders like our fictitious character Elliot.
These criminals have been known to recruit money mules via romance scams or employment scams. In a romance scam, the ‘money mule’ is emotionally invested and could also be considered a victim. Employment scams often offer potential money mules a job that requires minimal effort with lucrative returns – for instance, a small commission for receiving and transferring money.
According to the Australian Federal Police, it is a crime to transact in the movement of stolen funds, even if you are unaware that you are acting as a money mule. Money mules are caught because they are not trying to hide their activities, and when caught, they can have their entire bank accounts, including their own funds, suspended and potentially face criminal prosecution.
How can I protect myself?
I think I am a victim, what can I do?
Anyone who has disclosed their bank account details, received funds into their account or suspect that they are a victim of a mule scam should contact their bank or financial institution immediately.
For more information on this and more, please refer to Scam Watch