If you’re searching for flexible, home-based work, a money transfer job may seem appealing. It looks like easy work: All you have to do is process payments by depositing them into your account and then sending the money on to somebody else.
However, by doing this work you risk getting ripped off by your so-called "employer," and your activities could involve you in a crime, leading to serious consequences including frozen assets and prosecution. Think about it: Why would a legitimate company hire a stranger to use his personal bank account to conduct company business? These operations are often money laundering scams, and you’ll most likely lose money (or worse) at some point.
How Moving Money Puts You at Risk
The details may vary, 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). These are red flags that the job may be too good to be true.
As payments come and go through your account, you and your bank will become accustomed to seeing these transactions as routine events. The bank will make the money available to you quickly, and you’ll be able to forward payments soon after receiving them. But eventually, you'll forward payment for a bad deposit. It takes time for banks to realize that a deposit won't clear, but when they do, they'll reverse the money from your account. If you've already forwarded that payment, you'll be out that money, and your account balance may even go negative.
Furthermore, most payments you make while performing those jobs are irreversible: You won't be able to cancel the payment or get your money back.
Money Laundering Scams
In some cases, money transfer jobs are part of illegal money laundering operations. Money laundering is the process of moving money obtained illegally into legitimate accounts so that the launderers can spend that money in the mainstream financial system.
Criminals can’t deposit large sums of cash without a legitimate business or they risk raising red flags with banks, tax collectors, and regulators as to the source of those funds. So they use several methods to "launder" that "dirty" money into something "clean"—something not known to be tied to illegal activity.
When you do money transfer work and help criminals launder money, you’re acting as a “money mule,” someone they use to do their bidding and hide their activities. Because your personal account is clean, the funds you deposit are introduced into the banking system and nobody gets suspicious.
Common money launderers include terrorist organizations, hackers, drug dealers, stolen property dealers, and identity thieves.
Little Financial or Legal Recourse
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.”
You can report problems to your bank, but since you authorized the transfers out of your account or withdrew cash to buy money orders, there might not be any error for the bank to fix, because you’re the only person who accessed your account.
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. Still, file a report with the local authorities so there's a record of the problem, but know that 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.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
Be very cautious about taking money transfer jobs. Ask yourself the following questions, and then decide whether the opportunity makes sense or sounds risky.
- What kind of business would hire a stranger to handle their money without doing thorough interviews and background checks?
- Are you getting paid a reasonable rate for the work you’re doing, or is this too good to be true?
- What kind of business needs to funnel money through your personal bank account—don’t they have a business account for those needs?
- How much are you risking when you send money to somebody that you don’t know?
Thoroughly research any company asking you to transfer money, and pay attention to any red flags that come up. Don't give your personal information to a company before verifying that they're legitimate, and beware of any company that asks you to use your personal bank account when conducting the company's business.