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News

IRS Criminal Investigation Unit Warns Taxpayers to Be Aware of Money Mule Networks

By:
S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Mar 13, 2024

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The IRS's Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) unit warned taxpayers to be aware of money mule networks—"criminal enterprises that rely on networks of people to move illicit funds between bank accounts, currencies and blockchains in an attempt to evade law enforcement," Accounting Today reported.

Individuals who participate in these networks often do so unwittingly, thinking that they may be helping or doing a favor for someone, or performing job duties, but the consequences are the same for anyone who participates, knowingly or not: They could result in criminal charges.

“Fraudsters prey on people’s vulnerabilities—whether that’s the need for friendship or the need for a job—and that can result in devastating financial and legal consequences for a person recruited as a money mule,” said CI Chief Jim Lee in the IRS’s announcement. “The best way to protect yourself from falling victim to one of these schemes is to know what to look for and to contact law enforcement if you suspect suspicious activity.”

Money mule networks recruit participants through a variety of means, including social media, employment and dating websites, email spam, classified ads and dark web forums, according to the IRS. Facilitators of these networks often use these means to lure people with promises of easy money with little to no effort. They may pose as a prospective employer, requiring a job candidate to open a bank account to receive and transfer company funds as a condition of employment. They may develop an online relationship and then ask for a fund transfer via a services business, a wire transfer or the U.S. Postal Service. At times, mules may be told to keep a portion of the funds for themselves, making them a recipient of illicit money.

This is the sixth year in which the CI is joining forces with federal partners to take part in an annual, multiweek effort deemed the Money Mule Initiative, which aims to identify and prosecute facilitators of money mule schemes. In addition to CI, participating agencies include the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations, the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

IRS-CI advises taxpayers who believes that they, or someone they know, is part of a money mule network to stop all communication with suspected criminals immediately; not to transfer money or any other items of value; to maintain receipts, contact information and relevant communication such as emails, chats and text messages; and to notify the local CI field office and report suspicious activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Contact information for the IRS CI’s field offices can be found in the agency’s annual report.