The European Money Mule Action group (EMMA) has announced the end of their biggest operation yet, culminating with the arrest of 1,803 money mule suspects and safeguarding £60m of attempted fraudulent transactions.
EMMA is a multi-agency group consisting of law enforcement, FinTech companies and banks across 27 countries, set up to tackle the international problem of money laundering via money mules.
Money mules are people that are either complicit in or ignorant to the use of their bank accounts being used to receive and send on funds derived from criminality. When funds are stolen, criminals need to find a way to cash out their ill-gotten gains. Criminals cannot simply divert funds to their own personal accounts as this would bring them to the attention of law enforcement, so they need to find legitimate financial accounts that they can control, but that are not associated to them personally.
Money mules are typically recruited online via social media and recruitment advertisements that offer easy money earnt from the comfort of the applicants own home. The unwitting applicant will be tricked into permitting their account to be used for the transfer of funds in return for a small percentage retention of some of the funds.
Money mules are often struggling financially which makes them more susceptible to recruitment.
The funds moving through the money mules account is often derived from cyber enabled crime such as business email compromise (BEC). This occurs when a threat actor uses email to impersonate any business that is owed money by another business, and tricks them into transferring the payment into a money mule account. Employees working in company finance departments are particularly at risk to this type of criminality.
The threat actor controlling the money mule accounts are often referred to as a “mule herder” and they are difficult to identify as they keep their identities concealed and hide in the shadows behind the money mules.
EMMA has identified that the best way to disrupt these organised criminal networks is to facilitate better information sharing between law enforcement and the financial sector, so that they can analyse their data and identify mule activity and seize funds before they are taken out of the reach of European law enforcement agencies.
This partnership has resulted in the identification of 7,000 fraudulent transactions and the loss prevention of nearly £60m between September and November 2021. They have identified over 18,000 mules and 324 herders, with 1803 arrests made.
By preventing or frustrating the laundering of criminal funds, EMMA are reducing the attractiveness of cybercrimes such as BEC, which will hopefully stem the growth of cybercrime.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).