The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has arrested a 22-year-old Dutch national in Queensland for his alleged role in a money mule network suspected of laundering more than $3.5m stolen from Australian bank accounts.
The AFP began an investigation early last year into malware targeting bank account holders in Australia and overseas.
It is believed that a cybercrime syndicate is responsible for the malware, which is used to steal bank account details to extract funds from victims. The syndicate then uses the money mule network to transfer the stolen funds offshore.
Police allege the money mule network has laundered more than $3.5m in funds stolen from Australian accounts by the cybercrime syndicate behind this malware. The amount of funds stolen internationally cannot yet be determined.
The AFP has been working closely with its banking partners to identify victims and link the money mules to the stolen funds.
AFP investigators followed the money trail from one victim to an account belonging to the 22-year-old Dutch national who police allege to be a money mule.
The investigation revealed the man had, in one instance, had $18,000 in stolen funds transferred into his bank account. He allegedly took a five per cent commission and withdrew cash. He then converted the cash to Bitcoin via a Bitcoin ATM in Sydney before transferring it offshore.
AFP officers executed a search warrant and arrested the then 21-year-old man on 16 December 2020 when he attended the Ayr Police Station on an unrelated matter.
The man was charged with dealing with money that he suspected to be proceeds of crime, to the value of AUD18,000.00, contrary to section 400.9 (1A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
The maximum penalty for this offence is two years’ imprisonment, 120 penalty units or both.
He was granted conditional bail and is due to appear before Ayr Magistrates Court today.
AFP Commander Cybercrime Operations Chris Goldsmid said if something sounds too good to be true then it often is and, while these mules think they can earn money with little effort, they are stealing from hardworking Australians and will face the full force of the law.
“Would-be money mules need to look beyond earning that quick cash,” Cmdr. Goldsmid said.
“As we believe happened in this investigation, you just might be helping a cybercrime syndicate steal thousands of dollars from honest everyday Australians. Further, you face the possibility of being prosecuted and imprisoned for dealing in proceeds of crime.”
“An Australian victim of this malware reported a loss of $40,000 from their bank account. For many Australians, this represents years upon years of savings.”
There are several signs to look out for to avoid inadvertently becoming a money mule. These include:
- Responding to poorly written job advertisements from overseas companies seeking ‘local/national representatives’ or ‘agents’ to act on their behalf, sometimes to avoid high transaction fees or local taxes;
- Positions involving transferring money or goods with no education or experience required;
- Job descriptions stating you must use your own bank account to move money; and
- Advertisements with expressions such as ‘legit money’, ‘100% guaranteed’ and ‘same day cash’.
Investigations into both the cybercrime syndicate and money mule network are ongoing.
People who believe they have been lured into being a money mule should report it to Report Cyber or their local police. They should also notify their bank or payment provider/service.
If you are a victim of cybercrime, you can report it online or contact the Australian Cyber Security Hotline on 1300 CYBER1 (1300 292 371).