IRS Criminal Investigation warns US taxpayers about money mule networks


Date: March 12, 2024


WASHINGTON – Criminal enterprises rely on networks of people to move illicit funds between bank accounts, currencies and blockchains in an attempt to evade law enforcement. These individuals are referred to as money mules, and in many situations, they may not realize they are participating in a criminal scheme. They may think they’re helping a friend, doing a favor for a love interest or performing job duties, but the consequences – often in the form of criminal charges – remain the same for witting and unwitting participants. This March, IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) has joined forces with federal partners to take part in an annual, multiweek effort deemed The Money Mule Initiative aimed at identifying and prosecuting facilitators of money mule schemes.

“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. “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. Facilitators of these networks may send an unsolicited email or social media message that promises easy money with little to no effort. They may pose as a prospective employer who requires a job candidate to open a bank account to receive and transfer company funds as a condition of employment. They may strike up an online relationship and then ask their romantic partner to transfer funds on their behalf using money a services business, a wire transfer or the U.S. Postal Service. At times, the mule may be told to keep a portion of the funds for themselves, making them a recipient of illicit money.

If you or someone you know believes they are part of a money mule network, immediately stop all communication with suspected criminals. Do not transfer money or any other items of value. Maintain receipts, contact information and relevant communication like emails, chats and text messages. Notify your local CI field office and report suspicious activity to Contact information for CI’s field offices can be found in the agency’s annual reportPDF.

This is the sixth year of The Money Mule Initiative where federal agencies take part in a coordinated, multiweek effort to combat the pervasive problem of fraud money flowing through U.S.-based facilitators, often referred to as money mules. Since 2018, federal law enforcement agencies have surged resources as part of the initiative to disrupt money mule networks. In addition to CI, participating agencies include: the Department of Justice, 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.

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CI is the law enforcement arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft and more. CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, obtaining a nearly 90% federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 12 attaché posts abroad.