The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warning regarding money mules after a family from Oregon lost their life savings.
Aaron Cole and his wife, had made the decision to sell and use the equity they had built to purchase a much larger home.
After selling their existing home, the title company had informed them that they would be in touch soon regarding making the initial payment on their new house.
On December 4, 2018, an email arrived which appeared to be from the title company. Shortly after, Aaron’s wife went to the bank and sent $122,850 to the account number provided in the email.
A few days later, the title company contacted Aaron informing him that it was time to wire the down payment. Within moments the title company figured out what had happened.
An FBI spokesperson explained that the family had been the victims of a business email compromise scam and “had wired their money to a criminal who had spoofed the title company’s email address and send them fake wire instructions.”
“What happened to the Coles was due to the deliberate actions of the online criminals who compromised an email account to steal from them, but the criminals could not have carried out the scheme without the involvement of money mules.”
The FBI defines a money mule as an individual who transfers illegally acquired money on behalf of or at the direction of another person.
In 2018, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 20,000 complaints from victims of business email compromise alone. The total reported loss was more than $1.2 billion.
The title company generously offered to cover the down payment in exchange for the family’s help alerting others about business email compromise.
“If you send and receive money at someone else’s request—especially someone you’ve never met—you are likely helping criminals to steal from hardworking people, senior citizens, and small businesses,” said Supervisory Special Agent James Abbott of the FBI’s Money Laundering, Forfeiture, and Bank Fraud Unit.