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Recruitment Of Unwitting Money Mules on the Rise

Cybercriminals are duping people desperate for work to illegally launder their dirty money -- online and offline -- as the unemployment rate climbs
A new wave of e-mail scams promising quick ways to make money from home are increasingly duping people into serving as unsuspecting money mules for cybercrime operations.

As the unemployment rate has climbed, so has the amount of money-mule recruitment and job-related spam scams that prey on people losing their jobs. Job-related spam campaigns jumped 514 percent between August and October when the economic crisis first began to unfold, according to new data released by Panda Labs, including data gathered from The Project Honeypot. Even more disturbing is that seven of the world's largest money-mule crime networks have been able to successfully dupe their victims into moving their stolen money or assets 30 percent of the time, according to research from Panda Labs

Money mules are lured by e-mail that promises them $300 an hour or several thousands of dollars to perform rebate processing, for instance. "[The duped victims] think they are doing a service for the community," says Ryan Sherstobitoff, chief corporate evangelist for Panda Labs. "Thirty percent of who [the cybercriminals] sign up successfully go through the process of wiring the money that was illegally obtained...from crimeware that was stealing people's information," he says. "They don't realize they are participating in a mass-scale illegal money-laundering network."

When the U.S. employment rate hit 6.5 percent in October, a 14-year-high, money-mule recruitment and job spam also hit an all-time high in the spam space, at 0.31 percent of all spam, up from 0.23 percent the month before, according to Panda's data.

The money-laundering scam typically works like this, says Sherstobitoff: The money mule transfers funds for the cybercriminals with promises of a commission for "rebate processing" or other services. The mule eventually ends up wiring funds via Western Union to an overseas destination, typically in Eastern Europe, for instance, he says.

"When people are in a desperate situation, they do desperate things," he says. "If you're out of a job and you can't make ends meet, you might" be more likely to consider these ventures and unknowingly end up laundering dirty money, he says.

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