Denise reported him to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and provided AARP with a copy of her complaint. She also discussed her ordeal with AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline, 877-908-3360, and, asking that only her first name be used, spoke for this story, at one point breaking down in tears. Mostly, though, she wants to spare other potential victims from the emotional whiplash — and near-empty wallet — she survived.
Emotional, financial ‘torture’
“I pray by the grace of God that what I have come through,” she said, “may help at least one person to be spared the emotional and financial torture of such an experience. I just have to believe it was for a better purpose.
“It still haunts me … I have dating PTSD. The worst part was, first and foremost, the illegal activity in my name.”
People like Denise are called “money mules,” the term for those who carry and transmit illicit money to disguise its origins. They transfer money derived from crimes, often starting by allowing the loot to be deposited in their own bank accounts. Typically, they pass the funds up the fraud chain by using, for example, gift cards, wire transfers, money orders, digital payment apps or bitcoins. Some mules are compensated for their efforts, while others are unwitting accomplices.
In recent years, authorities in the U.S. have put hundreds of mules — many of them older Americans — on notice that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, they could be slapped with criminal charges. Some, in fact, have been, like the Mississippi woman, now 71, awaiting trial for 19 felony charges punishable by up to 550 years in prison.
Important to know: It’s not just crooks masquerading as online suitors who manipulate people into being mules. Fake employment opportunities are another ruse. #DontBeAMule, a federal government public-service campaign, gives the warning signs that a bad actor has you laundering dirty money. Among them:
1. You’ve opened a bank account or moved money at someone else’s direction.
2. You’ve given someone access to your bank account or debit card.
3. You’ve allowed money from people you don’t know to be deposited in your account.
4. You’ve purchased gift cards or virtual currency at someone’s direction.
5. You’ve taken a job that promises easy money and involves sending or receiving money or packages. Or you’ve agreed to receive or forward packages.