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In its simplest form, muling is when a person receives and then forwards on cash or goods, either knowingly or unknowingly. It is a common tactic used by scammers to create extra separation between them and the people they have scammed/law enforcement.
Sometimes the scam is part of another scam, such as a romance scam. Other times it can be the entirity of the scam, such as in fake job or reshipping scams.
To begin with, we need to point out that scammers don't only work a single person at a time. They may be scamming dozens of people at once.
In the case of fake job or courier scams, the scammer will place a vague sounding advert online with a job offer. Those who reply will either receive physical goods to their home or cash to their bank account. These will have been obtained illegaly, most likely with fake checks or stolen credit card details. The victim is told to then forward these on to either another address in the case of goods or via money transfer service in the case of cash. They then get to keep a percentage of the money (typically 10%) as their "fee".
Overpayment scams are similar, but this time the scammer will trawl the buy/sell sites and "buy" an item using a fake/stolen check. The payment will be for a greater amount than the goods are worth, and the person is asked to forward the difference to another character the scammer is playing, typically a fake courier company.
Some scammers will even trick companies into sending the money by impersonating their boss in emails. This is known as a BEC scam.
In cases of scammers making romance victims into mules, the story becomes more complicated.
Firstly we have the scammer, who could be talking to dozens of people at once, using the same scam on them all at the same time, and using fake details to do so.
Person 1 (who we'll call "A") is spun a tale about how the scammer's character is in a situation where they're unable to receive money. A typical scenario may be that they're working on an oil rig and there's a problem with his account so he can't receive his pay. He'll ask the person if they could loan him some money until the issue is fixed and send it to a friend's account.
Person 2 (Who we'll call "B") is spun a similar tale, but this time he's asking if they can receive his pay for him due to the account issue and then forward it on to him using a money transfer service. He may even offer B a percentage of the money as a "thank you" for doing him this "favor".
A sends B money, and B forwards the money to the scammer. When A realises they've been scammed, the only details they have are of B, so when they go to the police, it's B's information that's given and who receives a visit from the police. The only details B has are the fake ones the scammer gave them.
B becomes liable and runs the risk of everything that entails, including possible jail time, while the scammer gets away scot free.
The previous examples are of unknowing mules, but sometimes the person is fully aware that they're part of a scam, but do it out of greed or desperation. They may even mail fake checks to others in exchange for payment.
These are just some short examples, but should give you some idea of how the scam works.
The main things to look out for are the use of a money transfer company such as Moneygram or Western Union, which scammers use as they can collect the money without the need for any ID.
Research the company. Check the email address, the wording of the ad, look for reviews, check the site isn't a fake. Do your due dilligence before replying to anything.
If you receive a check, ask your bank to check it for you to ensure it's not fake. Checks are only ever "provisionally cleared", and could come back as fake weeks or even months in the future.
Romance scammers make up scenarios where an "emergency" will arise requiring money, the use of your bank account or home address. These are more red flags. The simple answer to this is to never send to or move money for anyone you've never met in person.
More information on romance scammers can be found HERE.  (link will open in a new tab).
The best advice we can give you is to contact law enforcement. Bring as much evidence as you can with you to show proof of the scam. Emails, text messages, receipts etc. will all help your case. Many scammers work from other countries, so if you know how to show the email headers, that could be helpful too.
Remember, at the end of the day you're a victim of a scam. Law enforcement understand these scams and will do all they can to help.
You can also talk to us if you're unsure you're being scammed or want to talk to someone else first. We can look at the details you provide, give an informed explanation on if/why it's a scam and advise you of the best course of action.