Learn About Money Transfer Jobs

Too Good to Be True?

Money on the Line
Money transfer jobs can be a setup for a scam (you'll be hung out to dry) or part of a money laundering operation. Photodisc/Getty Images

If you’re looking for flexible, home-based work, a money transfer job may seem appealing. It’s easy work: All you have to do is process payments by depositing them into your account and sending the money on to somebody else.

Unfortunately, these “jobs” are often scams. Taking that position can result in losing your hard-earned money (and money you don’t even have) as well as potential criminal charges.

Things may appear to go well for a while, but sooner or later things get ugly.

The Appeal

The details vary with every operation, but most money transfer job scams have similar characteristics: You get to keep a cut of everything the money transfer business sends to you, and you can do the work from home. You don’t need advanced skills or training, and the income potential is significantly higher than anything you’ve earned in the past (more than the national median income, and often into six figures annually).

What could go wrong? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

How You Lose

There are significant risks to taking a money transfer job. Most payments you make in those jobs are irreversible: You can’t cancel the payment or get your money back. However, unless you deposit cash, the deposits you make can be reversed.

You’ll get scammed: These operations are often scams, and you’ll most likely lose money at some point.

As payments come and go through your account, you and your bank will be trained to see these transactions as routine events. The bank will clear funds for you quickly (or at least make the money available to you), and you’ll be able to forward payments soon after receiving them.

How it ends: Someday, a large payment will come through, and you’ll forward the payment without hesitation.

However, it takes time for banks to realize that a deposit will not clear, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually receive those funds. Your bank will reverse the bad deposit from your account — but you will have already forwarded the payment. As a result, you’ll lose money on the deal, and your account balance may go into the negative. Alternatively (if you don’t deposit a payment that bounces), a payment you receive will be reported as fraudulent, and it will be reversed.

Personal information: When applying for your job, you may have to provide sensitive personal information. As part of the “hiring process,” you may need to verify your Social Security Number, bank account information, and other private details for background checks and other requirements. Those demands may appear to make sense since you’re handling money. However, that information can be used to steal funds from your accounts or steal your identity.

Criminal charges: In addition to losing money, you may face criminal charges for participating in a money laundering operation.

Money Laundering

In some cases, money transfer jobs are part of illegal money laundering operations. Money laundering is the practice of taking funds obtained illegally and inserting those funds into legitimate accounts so that can spend that money in the mainstream financial system.

Criminals around the world want to get their earnings into their personal accounts, but they can’t just make fraudulent transfers from hacked accounts into their own accounts — investigators would quickly figure out who’s behind the crime. Likewise, they can’t deposit large sums of cash without a legitimate business or the risk of raising red flags (banks, tax collectors, and regulators will want to know about the source of those funds).

Money mules: When you do money transfer work and help criminals launder money, you’re known as a “money mule.” Your job is to hide the origin of money that goes to criminals. Because your personal account is clean (not known to be involved in criminal activity), the funds you deposit are introduced into the banking system, and nobody gets suspicious. Those funds get funneled back to criminals without any problem (the criminals don’t experience any problems, but you will).

Boring payments: When criminals receive funds through standard banking channels, it’s hard for authorities to see how they earn money. There are no suspicion-raising deposits made with a duffel bag full of cash, and no withdrawals from a business that is under investigation. Instead, the recipient gets plain old checks, money orders, or ACH transfers — just like a typical wage-earner.

Money launderers: Who are you sending money to when you work an illegal money transfer job? It’s impossible to know, but common launderers include terrorist organizations, hackers, stolen property and drug rings, and others.

Can You Get Your Money Back?

Once your bank catches on and the deposits to your account are reversed, you’ll have no way to get your money back from your “employer.” If they even respond to your inquiries at all, you’ll get strung along or asked to do other risky things.

Complain to your bank? You can report problems to your bank, but you authorized the transfers out of your account, and you might have withdrawn cash to buy money orders or make transfers at money centers. As a result, there might not be any error for the bank to fix (because you’re the only person who accessed your account).

Legal recourse? You can report the problem to law enforcement, but the people you’ve been dealing with are most likely overseas or otherwise hard to find. Local authorities can take a report (which you may need a copy of to get certain benefits), but they typically do not have the resources to investigate these crimes. If your bank doesn’t recover the funds, you could try to bring legal action against your “employer,” but the odds of success are quite low.

Tips for Money Transfer Jobs

Be very cautious about taking money transfer jobs. Ask yourself the following questions, and then decide if the opportunity makes sense (or if it sounds risky).

  1. What kind of business would hire a complete stranger online to handle their money?
  2. Are you getting paid a reasonable rate for the work you’re doing, or is this too good to be true?
  3. What kind of business needs to funnel money through your personal bank account — don’t they have a business account for those needs?
  4. How much are you risking when you send money to somebody that you don’t know?