Cyber Wars / Job-seeker turned into 'money mule'

Cyber Wars / Job-seeker turned into 'money mule'

Information technology deeply permeates our daily lives, from banking transactions to shopping to photography to chatting with friends, to name only a few ways.

This constant state of connectedness has been accompanied by a growing number of cases in which people become unknowingly involved in crimes and other trouble. This series of articles, "Cyber Wars," will examine some of these hidden dangers that impinge on our lives.

This is the first installment.

While cases of illegal money transfers via online banking services have risen astronomically, another scam designed to hinder police investigation has been spreading under the radar. These schemes launder money through the use of "money mules"-unwitting victims often recruited online and used to transfer proceeds from such Internet fraud as phishing scams.

These fraudsters attempt to escape the reach of investigative authorities by having their mules transfer money acquired illegally via overseas remittance services, which are less stringent in their identification requirements than commercial banks are.

In Japan, the first money mule operation was confirmed to have been conducted last year. By the end of November, 224 money mules were found to have been involved in transferring illicit funds totaling ¥260 million (S$3.1 million). Of the 224, 149 were Japanese.

The Yomiuri Shimbun examined the operations of one such criminal scheme that recruited victims through e-mail and online job advertisements that appeared legitimate, but actually hired them to work as "disposable" money mules.

In September, a 57-year-old man living in Yokohama received a job offer from a food-related firm in Britain through LinkedIn, a social media site targeting job seekers.

After the man lost his job in December 2012 at a foreign-owned company, where he had worked for many years, he sent his resume to more than 400 companies, but to no avail. The day when his unemployment benefits would be terminated was approaching.

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