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Victims of money laundering

Victims of money laundering can indeed include a country's citizens, but they can also be victims of this crime on a personal level
Money laundering

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From a criminological point of view, a very important issue to address in the face of any criminal offence is its victimisation. This is no different in the case of money laundering. When thinking about the victims of money laundering, it is often thought that they are not private individuals and/or individuals, but rather the state economy and therefore the citizens of the state. But what if this is not entirely true?

The victims of money laundering can indeed include the citizens of a country, especially if there is a high level of corruption among public officials1. However, it is also possible to be a victim of this crime in a personal way, receiving the identifying name of "money mules".

The nickname "money mules" derives from the well-known drug mules. Money laundering was criminalised with the aim of preventing drug traffickers from bringing their illicit profits into the legal market. In this sense, the fact that the names of the victims of drug trafficking have been reused in money laundering emphasises the origin of money laundering in drug trafficking.

Money mules are as useful to money launderers as drug mules are to drug traffickers. They are people who move the illegal money generated by the offender from one bank account to another, making it difficult for the authorities to trace.

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Recruitment of money mules

Money mule recruiters use different ways to get a person to help them launder dirty money. In this line, a person becomes a victim of money laundering by being a victim of other scams, frauds or deceptions that have led him or her to collaborate in the asset laundering process.

One of the main forms of recruitment is through the lure of a job offer. Perpetrators of money laundering offences offer a job that consists of transferring funds and/or processing payments. In these offers, it is furthermore emphasised that citizens with the relevant nationality are needed as they "being foreigners" cannot do it themselves. A possible red flag for such job offers is that they may contain some or several grammatical errors; however, they are sometimes very well written and composed.

If a person is interested in the job, the launderer (and scammer) will eventually hire him or her on the grounds that he or she is the right candidate. He will then ask for the person's personal bank account number in order to transfer bad cheques through it. In return, as a form of payment, the victim keeps a certain percentage. However, in these circumstances, the banks of the laundering victims may hold them accountable for the deposited bad cheques.

Another way of recruiting money mules is through the forwarding scam, which also involves the offer of a job. The job, which is usually home-based, consists of forwarding stolen goods abroad. In this case, the laundering takes place when the launderer pays the victim with a forged cheque for the service performed and for the costs incurred in sending the goods. For the victim, the economic damage is multiple: he does not get his commission for the service performed, he bears the costs of shipping the goods and sometimes the costs of purchasing the goods.

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Schemes involving money mules

Outside the realm of job offers on online job platforms, Europol also highlights the use of social media, online pop-up advertisements and instant messaging applications2 as a means of obtaining money mules.

Other schemes in which victims of money laundering crime3 may be involved include romance scams, the CEO4 scam, lottery fraud, government imposter fraud, tech support fraud, unemployment insurance fraud, Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks and payment commitment letters.

Also noteworthy is the way in which money laundering has adapted to the circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic5. In this case, criminal organisations are involved in "saving" small businesses that, due to the restrictions caused by the virus, are in a risky economic situation; normally, these businesses have a clean tax record.

And finally, it is necessary to highlight "cybermules" in terms of their relationship with cryptocurrencies. The use of cryptocurrencies by criminals is notable for making it more difficult to trace the money transferred; therefore, for this crime whose ultimate aim is to erase the illegality of its origins, the characteristics presented by this type of money are ideal.

European Money Mule Action (EMMA)

The EMMA campaign aims to raise public awareness of the importance of being wary of any red flags that may be detected in terms of facilitating money laundering. While there are some people who knowingly mule money and get paid for it, in most cases this is not the case. The people most at risk of becoming victims of money laundering are the elderly and people who make themselves vulnerable by being uninformed.

Money launderers usually look for their "helpers" (victims) in a male profile between 18 and 34 years old, unemployed, student and/or with financial problems; and in a foreigner recently arrived in the country.

Therefore, to avoid being used as a money mule, citizens should pay attention to their financial transactions, be cautious with the "prizes" or "jobs" they get, be careful with long-distance relationships and be cautious with the mails and links they receive. At the level of a company, security must be doubled in procedures and economic transactions, partners and suppliers must be known, and employees must be made aware and informed of the new forms of crime that are appearing.

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Conclusion

It can be seen that the risk of becoming a victim of money laundering is for everyone. In this sense, in order to avoid the proliferation of the crime in question, prevention and reaction must be multiple and multilevel.

In other words, responsibility must range from the police and the judiciary to citizens, including businesses (both large and small companies) and those platforms or applications that are already being used or have a predisposition to be used to recruit money mules. It is necessary to do so because it would at least reduce the "pull effect" that occurs when a person who participates in the money laundering procedure of a previous offender includes or uses another person to explain the extra money made by the service.

Naomi Fernanda Vílchez Loayza, criminologist and collaborator of Sec2Crime in the area of Economic Crime.

References

1 - Asociación de Especialistas Certificados en Delitos Financieros (2021). Estados Unidos y la UE toman iniciativas anuales contra las mulas del dinero. Recuperado de: https://www.delitosfinancieros.org/estados-unidos-y-la-ue-toman-iniciativas-anuales-contra-las-mulas-del-dinero/ [Revisado el 28/11/2021]

2 - Área de Delincuencia Económica (2021). Estafa del CEO. Sec2Crime. Recuperado de: https://www.sec2crime.com/2021/09/30/estafa-del-ceo/ [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

3 - EUROPOL (2021). Money muling. Recuperado de: https://www.europol.europa.eu/crime-areas-and-trends/crime-areas/forgery-of-money-and-means-of-payment/money-muling [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

4 - Vílchez, N. (2021). Adaptación de la delincuencia económica al ciberespacio por la pandemia. Atalayar. Recuperado de: https://atalayar.com/blog/adaptaci%C3%B3n-de-la-delincuencia-econ%C3%B3mica-al-ciberespacio-por-la-pandemia [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

5 - Vílchez, N. (2021). Relación entre corrupción y blanqueo. Sec2Crimen. Recuperado de: www.sec2crime.com/2021/10/30/relacion-entre-corrupcion-y-blanqueo/ [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

Bibliography

Asociación de Especialistas Certificados en Delitos Financieros (2021). Estados Unidos y la UE toman iniciativas anuales contra las mulas del dinero. Recuperado de: https://www.delitosfinancieros.org/estados-unidos-y-la-ue-toman-iniciativas-anuales-contra-las-mulas-del-dinero/ [Revisado el 28/11/2021]

Área de Delincuencia Económica (2021). Estafa del CEO. Sec2Crime. Recuperado de: https://www.sec2crime.com/2021/09/30/estafa-del-ceo/ [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

EUROPOL (2021). Money muling. Recuperado de: https://www.europol.europa.eu/crime-areas-and-trends/crime-areas/forgery-of-money-and-means-of-payment/money-muling [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

Vílchez, N. (2021). Adaptación de la delincuencia económica al ciberespacio por la pandemia. Atalayar. Recuperado de: https://atalayar.com/blog/adaptaci%C3%B3n-de-la-delincuencia-econ%C3%B3mica-al-ciberespacio-por-la-pandemia [Revisado el 18/11/2021]

Vílchez, N. (2021). Relación entre corrupción y blanqueo. Sec2Crimen. Recuperado de: www.sec2crime.com/2021/10/30/relacion-entre-corrupcion-y-blanqueo/ [Revisado el 18/11/2021]