Money mules booklet released to help protect New Zealanders

A booklet outlining how New Zealanders can unwittingly become money mules for international fraudsters has been released by CFFC and the Police.

The two organisations partnered in producing the online publication following publicity regarding how international crime rings are increasingly targeting New Zealanders’ bank accounts to launder proceeds from scams and fraud.

A money mule is someone who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of a criminal. Mules are recruited to move money through bank accounts, making it difficult for police to track money stolen from a victim or gained through criminal activity such as drugs, fraud or human trafficking.

The booklet, titled Money Mules – are you working for criminals?, details who’s at risk, how money mules are recruited either unwittingly or complicitly, how criminals exploit them, the possible consequences including imprisonment for money laundering, how New Zealanders can protect themselves, and what to do if they think they’ve been used as a money mule.

Bronwyn Groot, CFFC’s Fraud Education Manager, says the information is in demand as the incidence of scams and fraud increases, and with it the use of victims as money mules.

“Many online scams involve asking the victim to receive money to ‘look after’ and then transfer it to another account, usually offshore,” says Groot. “In most cases the money has been scammed from someone else, and is destined to fund organised crime.”

Groot says mules are often shocked to discover they may be charged with money laundering and face imprisonment of up to seven years.

If a person thinks they may have been used as a mule, Groot says they should stop all communication with the suspected criminals, keep receipts and contact information and notify the police.

“People of all ages and from all walks of life can become mules,” says Groot. “Students, new migrants, business owners, retirees, you name it. Scammers target them through online job websites, dating and social networking websites and online classifieds.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Bridget Doell, from the Auckland City Police Financial Crime Unit, says money laundering is a criminal offence with serious penalties.

“Our recent investigations involving money laundering activity, such as Operations Deadwood and Blowfish, resulted in the arrests of a significant number of alleged offenders,” says Detective Senior Sergeant Doell.

“This demonstrates Police’s commitment to investigating this type of offending and holding those responsible to account.”