There are 15 million small businesses being run out of the owners’ homes, according to the SBA. Being able to work from home is a dream for many budding entrepreneurs.
If you’re out of work and thinking about becoming self-employed, or if you are looking for additional revenue streams while you grow your startup, it’s tempting to search the Internet for “work at home” opportunities. Just don’t be fooled by some of them – they’re really criminal enterprises. And they could get you unwanted attention by the FBI.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of “work at home” scams. But the one I am referring to here relates to bank fraud and money-laundering. Cybercriminals recruit Americans for fake part-time jobs or contract positions through online job boards. In reality, the person who is “hired” ends up as a “mule,” helping launder money for international criminals. Money is deposited in the mule’s bank account, and then transferred internationally after deducting a small commission for the mule.
The sole job responsibility for the mule is to use their bank account to move money around. Here’s the text of one such job posting appearing on a job board on April 14, 2010:
“We are searching for representatives who can help us establish a medium of getting our funds from our customers in Europe/Australia/United Kingdom/United States of America as well as making payments through these representatives to us, so I want to know if you will like to work from home and get paid. This position will in no way affect your present job as well.”
That’s it – that’s the entire job posting. In this day and age of sophisticated financial systems, where moving money internationally is relatively easy, a posting like that ought to make you suspicious. The FBI certainly thinks so.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is cracking down on “money mules” who receive transfers of stolen funds in their banks accounts, according to Patrick Carney, acting chief of the FBI's Cyber Criminal Section. The FBI plans to formally charge those who knowingly engage in these criminal activities, and the FBI is approaching the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “I find it difficult to believe there are that many people who believe it's a legitimate job,” Mr. Carney is quoted as saying in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
A tough economy has only made these scams more prevalent. A McAfee Security report on cybercrime in 2008 found that the use of American money mules has been rising as the economy has gotten worse.
What makes it even trickier is that recruitment for these criminal activities takes place out in the open on public job boards. Toby Dayton of JobDig.com points out that postings for cyber mules is a huge problem, and that job aggregators that collect job postings from public job sites, as well as websites that republish the job listings, add to the problem by spreading around the listings and making them seem legitimate.
In other words, don’t rely on the fact that you saw the posting on a legitimate website you otherwise trust. It could still be a scam.
A lot of small business owners start out by taking temporary work or contract positions as they are growing a startup. Juggling two, three or four roles while growing a startup is not uncommon – cash flow is the name of the game, and many entrepreneurs look for additional revenue streams to bring in cash to finance a startup. Just don’t be fooled by these cybercrime activities – if it sounds like it’s too easy, there’s probably something wrong with the “opportunity.”