Europol has identified 18,351 money mules and arrested 1,803 of them as part of an international anti-money-laundering operation codenamed EMMA 7.
The operation is the result of a joint effort of 27 countries, Eurojust, INTERPOL, the European Banking Federation (EBF), and the FinTech FinCrime Exchange
The name EMMA is an acronym for European Money Mule Action operation, the first EMMA operation led by Europol took place in 2016.
The EMMA 7 operation was conducted between September 15 and November 30, 2021, it saw the contribution of law enforcement agencies from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, United Kingdom, United States.
The money mules have a crucial role in criminal organizations to launder money for a wide array of illegal activities, such as online scams, sim-swapping, e-commerce fraud, and phishing. Money mules receive and transfer money on behalf of crooks in exchange for a small fee.
“The operation resulted in 1 803 arrests and the identification of over 18 000 money mules.” reads the press release published by Europol. “It also revealed that money mules were being used to launder money for a wide array of online scams such as sim-swapping, man in the middle attacks, e-commerce fraud and phishing.”
The authorities conducted 2,503 individual investigations, the operation prevented losses of €67.5 million by stopping 7,000 fraudulent transactions that were reported. According to Europol, around 400 banks and financial institutions supported the operation.
identification of 324 recruiters.
Europol pointed out that money mules can be recruited unknowingly into the criminal operation. Groups of individuals such as students, immigrants, and people in economic distress, are a privileged target of recruiters that offer them easy money. Recruiters leverage multiple channels, such as legitimate-looking job adverts and social media posts.
“Ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to the law and money muling; they are breaking the law by laundering the illicit proceeds of crime. For this reason, Europol coordinated the ‘#DontBeAMule’ awareness campaign with all participant countries, law enforcement and the EBF on behalf of the European banks, as a means to prevent more innocent bystanders being exploited by criminals and putting themselves at risk.” concludes the press release.
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