Saying that fraudsters are using the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to further scammers’ efforts, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released additional warnings to consumers on Monday, warning against both “money mule” and business email compromise schemes exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Money mule schemes
The FBI says that criminals who obtain money illegally need to find ways to move and hide the illicit funds, so they scam consumers, often called “money mules,” into moving money through funds transfers, physical movement of cash and various other methods. Money mules are often targeted through online job schemes or dating websites and apps, according to the FBI.
The FBI is specifically advising consumers to be on the lookout for work-from-home scams and communication from individuals claiming to be abroad seeking financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work-from-home schemes. The FBI advises individuals to watch out for online job postings and emails from individuals promising easy money for little effort. Common red flags include:
- the “employer” an individual communicates with uses strictly web-based services such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook and others;
- the individual is asked to receive funds in their personal bank account and then “process” or “transfer” funds via wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service businesses, such as Western Union or MoneyGram;
- the individual is asked to open bank accounts in their name for a business;
- the individual is told to keep a portion of the money he or she transfers; and
- individuals claiming to be located overseas asking you to send or receive money on their behalf.
Emails, private messages and phone calls from individuals who claim to be located abroad and in need of financial support. Criminals are trying to gain access to U.S. bank accounts in order to move fraud proceeds from consumers to their bank accounts, the FBI warns. Common fictitious scenarios include individuals who:
- claim to be U.S. service members stationed overseas asking consumers to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19;
- claim to be U.S. citizens working abroad asking consumers to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19;
- claim to be U.S. citizens quarantined abroad asking consumers to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19;
- claim to be in the medical equipment business asking consumers to send or receive money on their behalf; or
- claim to be affiliated with a charitable organization and asking consumers to send or receive money on their behalf.
More information about money mule schemes can be accessed on the FBI’s website.
Business email compromise schemes
Business email compromise scams target anyone who performs legitimate funds transfers, with the FBI reporting an increase in BEC frauds targeting municipalities purchasing personal protective equipment or other supplies needed in the fight against COVID-19.
In a typical BEC scheme, the victim receives an email they believe is from a company they normally conduct business with, but the specific email requests funds be sent to a new account or otherwise alters the standard payment practices, according to the FBI.
The FBI advises consumers to be on the lookout for the following red flags:
- unexplained urgency;
- last-minute changes in wire instructions or recipient account information;
- last-minute changes in established communication platforms or email account addresses;
- communications only in email and refusal to communicate via telephone or online voice or video platforms;
- requests for advanced payment of services when not previously required; and
- requests from employees to change direct deposit information.
The FBI also urges consumers to:
- be skeptical of last minute changes in wiring instructions or recipient account information;
- verify any changes and information via the contact on file — do not contact the vendor through the number provided in the email;
- ensure the URL in emails is associated with the business it claims to be from;
- be alert to hyperlinks that may contain misspellings of the actual domain name; and
- verify the email address used to send emails, especially when using a mobile or handheld device, by ensuring the sender’s email address appears to match who it is coming from.
More information about business email compromise schemes can be accessed on the FBI’s website.