Law enforcement agencies across Europe and the US have arrested nearly 200 people in a crackdown on money laundering.
In a week of action coordinated by Eurojust, police identified 580 money mules and interviewed 380 suspects in relation to losses amounting to €23 million. The operation involved police forces from countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom and Ukraine.
The investigation was the second coordinated European Money Mule Action (EMMA) week, during which Europol and Eurojust deployed a number of mobile offices across the continent. Working in close collaboration with 106 banks and private partners, the operation resulted in the arrest of 178 money mules suspected of having helped criminals launder their ill-gotten gains.
Money mules transfer stolen funds between accounts for organised crime groups, taking a small commission for their trouble. They are often recruited by gangs who advertise seemingly legitimate jobs online. According to Eurojust, people recruited to the role are often newcomers to the country they live in, students, unemployed or in some form of other economic distress. Men aged between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most likely recruits.
Although large rewards are promised, money mules rarely make a significant amount of commission, despite the fact that they could face jail if caught. Some of those who work as mules are unaware that they are doing anything wrong, a fact that can rarely be relied upon if they are caught by police. In many countries, those arrested for acting as money mules can face significant prison sentences due to the fact the activity is seen as a key enabler of money launderers.
Eurojust President Michele Coninsx commented: “To effectively tackle money mules, we need seamless cross-border cooperation among judicial and law enforcement authorities with the private actors. It is important to understand that money laundering may on the surface seem to be a small crime, but is orchestrated by organised crime groups, that is what we need to inform the public about.
“Therefore, the European Money Mule Action II is paramount to stopping people being lured and recruited into aiding serious crime, to break this crime link, by being aware of who is behind this type of crime.”
Earlier this week, Russian cyber security firm Group IB revealed how money mules played a key role in a cyber gang’s plot to use malware to force cash machines to spew out money. The group behind the plan paid money mules to stand close to designated ATMs throughout Europe and Asia and wait for them to start dispensing notes. The mules would then deposit the cash into their own accounts, and transfer it to others controlled by the hackers.