Money mules make their mark

Read time 2min 10sec

The concept of "money mules", while old hat in many developed countries, will probably become more of a concern in developing countries, as the Internet is used more for commerce, a security expert warns.

Miles Clement, a senior research consultant with the International Security Forum (ISF), says a "money mule" is someone who allows his or her bank account to be used for the transfer of illegal funds for a small commission.

"This is different from the Nigerian 419 scams that ask you to give them money so they can transfer an exorbitant amount into your account," he says.

Clement, who is attending the ISF`s world congress in Cape Town, says one of the major trends in cybercrime is for the "criminal mastermind" to orchestrate an attack and to cover his or her tracks by keeping the money gained as far from them as possible.

"The scenario is this: a criminal mastermind commissions an undergraduate student, usually in an Eastern European country, to write some kind of malicious software that targets a specific organisation using information that has been gathered through various sources. Once the money has been extracted, a number of 'money mules` are used to transfer the money as quickly as possible, making it almost impossible for the authorities to trace it."

Clement says while many countries have passed strict laws governing the opening of bank accounts and the amounts that may be placed in them or transferred, people often still participate in such activity.

"The problem is that many people do not see this as a crime. After all, they think, I am just offering a service for which I am getting paid," he says.

SA passed the Financial Intelligence Centre Act two years ago with the aim of cutting down on money laundering activities; however, it is not yet known what effect it has had.

"It has certainly made it more difficult to open a bank account. However, some of the more sophisticated money laundering scams still have to hit our shores," says a senior executive at a major commercial bank. "What is a 'money mule` anyway?"

Clement says the concept of money mules enables crimes such as identity theft.

"Without a means to transfer the gains, there would be no reason to commit the crime."

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