Europol announced Wednesday that a recent money laundering investigation dubbed “European Money Mule Action” (EMMA) has led to hundreds of arrests and the seizure of millions of dollars by law enforcement officials in the US, Europe and Australia.
From September through November, 3,833 money mules were identified, and 228 individuals associated with “money muling” have been arrested so far, according to a press release from European law enforcement agency Europol. A total of 650 banks assisted in the investigation, which identified a total 7,520 fraudulent transactions and prevented the loss of some $14.3 million (12.9 million euros).
“Money mules, unlike their drug-trade counterparts, are not shuffling illicit goods over a physical border,” Europol clarified. “Instead, they take part – often unknowingly - in money laundering activities by receiving and transferring illegally obtained money between bank accounts and/or countries.”
Of the ways one may be roped into such a scheme, the police agency noted that in 2019, money mule recruiters have increasingly turned to “romance scams” that utilize online dating sites to lure potential victims. After grooming the prospective mule through charm or promises of wealth, the recruiter will instruct the victim to open a bank account to receive the fraudulent funds.
“Get-rich-quick online advertisements” on social media have also become prevalent, Europol said.
Despite being duped, the so-called money mules will still face the legal ramifications of their actions - which could be severe, depending on the legal framework of the individual’s country.
In order to combat the proliferation of these scams, Europol has launched its “#DontbeaMule” awareness campaign and is offering information in 25 languages on how to avoid becoming a victim and subsequent criminal.
The release noted that while hundreds have already been arrested, several of the 1,025 criminal investigations opened as part of the EMMA investigation remain ongoing.