Multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies took legal action over the last two months against more than 2,300 people they say are transnational fraudsters, including about 70 in Arizona.
The warnings, asset seizures, court orders and arrests were part of the third annual Money Mule Initiative, a global effort to stop fraud networks.
In Arizona, the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Arizona, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, and 12 partner agencies conducted “more than 70 interviews with individuals whose financial transactions indicated they were acting as money mules,” the agencies said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
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Arizona law enforcement served over 70 letters warning people they could be prosecuted if they continue their actions.
Efforts in other states resulted in legal action such as arrests and seizures, but officials did not announce arrests in Arizona, where they “focused on elder fraud cases where senior citizens served as money mules, including grandparent scams and romance scams,” the statement said.
What is a money mule?
Money mules are individuals who assist in fraud by taking the money stolen from victims and forwarding it to the fraud organizers, many of whom are located abroad, according to a Department of Justice statement Wednesday.
The operation was carried out with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI and six other federal law enforcement agencies, as well as numerous agencies in each state.
“Thanks to our partners across law enforcement for their efforts to disrupt these money mule schemes in our state,” the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a tweet Wednesday.
Stopping the scam
This year’s effort, conducted over the last two months, surpassed last year’s by more than 1,700 money mules.
“Money mules fuel fraud against some of America’s most vulnerable populations. Without the help of these money mules, many foreign fraud enterprises find it difficult to profit off of U.S. victims,” said Attorney General William P. Barr in a statement.
Fraud schemes include employment scams, romance scams, lottery scams and more. The practice is so common that some money mules get tricked into the scheme without realizing it.
“While some money mules may be genuinely unaware of their involvement in a criminal scheme, many fully understand they are moving money attained from unlawful activities,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona said in a statement.
However, these crimes still carry heavy punishments.
“Those individuals who act as money mules with the knowledge that they are furthering
a fraud scheme may be subject to criminal prosecution for committing a serious felony, such as money laundering,” the statement read.
Tips to avoid scams
Officials remind the public that online schemes often look like genuine opportunities, so it is important to remain vigilant. Below are some tips from the Department of Justice’s website to stay safe.
Be cautious of requests to receive and forward money, packages, gift cards, or virtual currency.
Scrutinize job offers that require opening bank accounts, receiving money or packages, or involve little more than sending or receiving money or other things of value, like gift cards or virtual currency.
If someone you’ve met online or over the phone asks you to send or receive money, that person is likely trying to recruit you to be a money mule and is likely not being truthful with you.
Reach breaking news reporter Salma Reyes at Salma.Reyes@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @r_salma_
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Law enforcement agencies issue warnings to about 70 Arizonans in national ‘money mule’ initiative