Being money mule may bite you in the ass later

Group of credit cards on computer keyboard with VISA and MasterCard brand logos.
Group of credit cards on computer keyboard with VISA and MasterCard brand logos.
Image: 123RF/ kritchanut

Allowing someone to move money through your bank account seems a harmless thing to do. It may even be mutually beneficial if the person you're helping gives you a small fee in return for the favour. But acting as a "money mule" makes you an accessory to a crime and if found out, will have serious implications for you in your future dealings with financial institutions.

A money mule is like a drug mule, but instead of being the courier of drugs from one destination to another, a money mule is used to electronically transfer money that was acquired illegally - usually stolen in online banking fraud - to criminals. Typically, mules are paid for their services.

Criminals are resorting more and more to this kind of fraud ever since the banks began using biometrics to verify account holders, and it has grown to such an extent that it has been defined as a new category of fraud by the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS).

More than 90% of money mule transactions are linked to cyber-related crimes such as phishing, online auction fraud, business e-mail compromise and CEO fraud, according to a 2017 report by Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency.

If you get reported for having acted as a money mule, your name and ID number will be listed by the SAFPS, which hosts a database of the names of people involved in various types of fraudulent behaviour. Being listed on such a database has far-reaching implications because it is shared among financial services providers.

The SAFPS hasn't begun listing people for money muling yet but will be doing so as soon as the systems are in place for the banks to report this type of misdeed to the SAFPS, says Manie van Schalkwyk, the executive director of SAFPS.

"Only the banks can report to the SAFPS and only after they have investigated and have prima facie evidence of money muling. After that, the perpetrator's chance of getting a bank account going forward will be near impossible," Van Schalkwyk warns.

Be wary of anyone claiming that they can't get their hands on their "own" money because they don't have a bank account.

If they have a South African cellphone number, they don't need a bank account. Their employer or whoever owes them money can send it to them via money transfer, a service offered by most of the big banks.

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