FBI Joins International Campaign to Stop Money Mules

The ask comes through a job posting or from someone you meet online. It seems simple and harmless enough: provide your bank account information and allow money transfers to flow into your account. Then move the money elsewhere and maybe earn a little cash for the trouble. Easy, painless, profitable. Right?

Wrong. You are likely aiding criminals by acting as a money mule, which can land you in prison and permanently damage your financial standing.

The FBI is joining with law enforcement partners worldwide to raise awareness of and curtail this illegal movement of funds, which is fueling the growth of crimes across the globe.

The FBI defines a money mule as a person who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another. Money mules often receive a commission for the service or provide assistance because they believe they have a trusting or romantic relationship with the individual who is asking for help.

Much of the money moved through these third-parties is stolen through Internet-enabled frauds, thefts, and scams. Drug trafficking and human trafficking are also common sources of the money. While some money mules may be genuinely unaware of their involvement in a larger criminal scheme, many fully understand they are moving money attained from unlawful activities. All mules, whether unaware or complicit, are committing a crime.

“Money mules are needed to help move stolen money from country to country, avert the scrutiny of financial institutions, and mask the identity of the individuals involved in these largely Internet-enabled crimes,” said Special Agent James Abbott of the Bureau’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit at FBI Headquarters. “Being able to easily move the profits from these crimes contributes to their rapid growth and threatens the safety and security of everyone who has a presence online.”

Read More

Members of APT 10 Group Targeted Intellectual Property and Confidential Information

Two Chinese men have been charged in a massive, years-long hacking campaign that stole personal and proprietary information from companies around the world, the FBI and the Justice Department announced at a press conference today in Washington, D.C.

The men, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, are part of a group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 10, or APT 10, a hacking group associated with the Chinese government. A New York grand jury indicted the pair for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The indictment was unsealed today.

According to the indictment, from around 2006 to 2018, APT 10 conducted extensive hacking campaigns, stealing information from more than 45 victim organizations, including American companies. Hundreds of gigabytes of sensitive data were secretly taken from companies in a diverse range of industries, such as health care, biotechnology, finance, manufacturing, and oil and gas.

FBI Director Christopher Wray described the list of companies, not named in the indictment, as a “Who’s Who” of the global economy. Even government agencies like NASA and the Department of Energy were among the victims. The hack is part of China’s ongoing efforts to steal intellectual property from other countries.

“Healthy competition is good for the global economy. Criminal conduct is not. Rampant theft is not. Cheating is not,” Wray said at the press conference.

APT 10 used “spear phishing” techniques to introduce malware onto targeted computers. The hackers sent emails that appeared to be from legitimate addresses but contained attachments that installed a program to secretly record all keystrokes on the machine, including user names and passwords. The group also targeted managed service providers (MSPs), companies that remotely manage their clients’ servers and networks. MSP hacks allowed APT 10 members to indirectly gain access to confidential data of numerous companies who were the clients of the MSPs.

Read More

9 Defendants Charged in Chicago in International Investigation Targeting

CHICAGO — Seven Chicago-area residents are among nine individuals arrested in the United States and Nigeria as part of an international investigation into online “romance scams” and “mystery shopper” schemes.

During the Chicago-based investigation, dubbed “Operation Gold Phish,” law enforcement identified a variety of cyber-enabled fraud schemes allegedly carried out by conspirators in the U.S. and Nigeria.

One of the alleged schemes involved “romance scams,” in which a conspirator builds trust with a victim through a purported online romance before convincing the victim to send money to a predetermined recipient.

The conspirators initially contacted victims online via applications and websites, including Match.com, Facebook, and Instagram, the complaint states.

Another alleged cyber-enabled fraud involved a “mystery shopper” scheme, in which conspirators fraudulently offered victims opportunities to work as a mystery shopper and receive commissions for evaluating retailers.

The victim received a check through the U.S. mail with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account, withdraw the money in cash, and wire it to a third party.

The check turned out to be fake, and the victims were defrauded of the wired money, the charges allege.

A criminal complaint filed Dec. 4, 2018, in U.S. District Court in Chicago charged nine defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Arrests were recently carried out in Illinois, Texas, and Nigeria, and all of the defendants are now in law enforcement custody.

The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is conducting a related investigation of other individuals in Nigeria.

The U.S. charges were announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Craig Goldberg, Inspector-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Chicago.

Valuable assistance was provided by the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter S. Salib and Charles W. Mulaney represent the government.

Read More

Credit Card Cloners Stole Thousands

A prolific credit card scammer—who continued his crimes from behind bars—is now serving a lengthy sentence thanks to a multi-agency investigation into his card-cloning operation.

From 2014 to 2016, Syracuse, New York, resident Daquan Rice, 23, and several associates purchased credit card numbers online from hackers in Russia, Pakistan, and Ukraine, who sell the information they steal. Rice also bought credit card numbers from a friend who worked at a Syracuse restaurant who had skimmed numbers from customer credit cards on Rice’s behalf.

Rice had an associate in New York City with a credit card cloning machine, and he would provide the numbers to the person to make new cards for him. Rice and his accomplices then used these cards to buy gift cards, which they would convert into cash or money orders.

“It’s unfortunately not that hard or complicated to get your hands on stolen credit card numbers,” said Special Agent Brandon Mercer of the FBI’s Albany Division, who investigated this case along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, New York State Police, and local law enforcement in the Syracuse area. “This information is readily available on the dark web from hackers and other criminals.”

There was nothing a merchant could have done to stop the fraudulent transaction, because the thieves put the fake cards in their own names. So even if a cashier asked for identification, the name on the credit card would have matched their IDs.

“It was a numbers game. They would print out hundreds of these cards. They would go to the register and swipe, and if it didn’t work, they would just throw it away and use the next one,” Mercer said. “A lot of these cards were only able to used once because the cardholder noticed the fraud and shut down the card.”

The fraudsters made about $80,000 over two years.

After his 2016 arrest for credit card cloning, Rice tried to continue his scheme—from his jail cell. In 2017, he worked with an accomplice, who was not in prison, to put more than $8,000 in funds stolen through credit card fraud on Rice’s prison commissary account. Rice tried to use that account to write large checks, but the prison shut down his account for the unusual activity and contacted the FBI.

Rice pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, and in October, he was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison. Several accomplices have also been sentenced for their roles in the scheme.

Read More