You may have heard the term 'drug mule' -- a person who, wittingly or not, transports illicit drugs across the border. You may not, however, have heard of a 'money mule.' These folks set up bank accounts to funnel ill-gotten money from U.S. business to international scam artists.
Being a money mule can be incredibly easy, unbelievably lucrative, and most definitely illegal, as over 20 Floridians indicted for a laundry list of federal financial crimes recently found out.
Destiny Asjee Rowland was one of those Floridians. The 21-year-old's Asjee Luxury, opened in July 2017, had $1,651,699 in the bank after its first month. How? Rowland's guilty plea to federal wire fraud charges explains that her TD Bank account was opened "so that proceeds of a wire fraud scam could be deposited into the bank accounts; Rowland then agreed to have a portion of the fraudulently obtained funds wired to other bank accounts in return for a cut of the proceeds."
According to the Miami Herald, Rowland was part of a $16 million international email con network that included 74 people worldwide -- 42 of them in the United States and 23 of those residing in South Florida. Scammers in Rowland's case posed as a Wisconsin company's business partner, and convinced that company to wire money to Rowland's bank account. Fortunately for the victim company, Rowland and others were busted while the money was still in her account, before it made its way across the border.
While Rowland pleaded guilty to one wire fraud, 23 other Floridians were charged in this and other, similar criminal schemes, most for money laundering or conspiracy to commit money laundering by recruiting others to the scam. Almost all of those charged were working from their homes, for their self-owned "businesses." "Operation Wire Wire," a collaboration of the FBI, Department of Treasury, Secret Service, and even the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, also nabbed 29 people in Nigeria and others in Canada, Poland, and Mauritius.
We all want to be our own boss, and working from our couch (especially if it's air-conditioned in South Florida) is an especially attractive prospect. Not to mention the thought of making millions in less than a month. But as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably illegal. Avoid unwittingly acting as a money mule, or having your startup or small biz used in a money laundering scheme by consulting with an attorney about new business prospects.