The seventh campaign has recently been completed of the European Money Mule Action, or EMMA-7, which was set up in 2016 on the initiative of Europol, Eurojust and the European Banking Federation. The international operation recently completed was the largest of its kind ever held, and is based on the concept that the exchanging of information between the public and private sectors is the key to the combat against complex modern criminal activity. Around 400 banks and financial institutions gave their support to the campaign, providing information about 7,000 fraudulent transactions and preventing a total loss estimated at nearly 70 million euros.
The investigation highlighted that money mules were laundering the profits of online fraud, by, for example, compromising commercial electronic mail operations or through fraudulent foreign currency transactions.
Some 1,803 arrests were made and over 18,000 suspected money mules were identified. It also showed that money mules were being used to launder cash from a wide range of online scams, such as exchanging SIM cards, fraudulent e-commerce transactions, and phishing (e-mail fraud).
During a period of operations lasting approximately two and a half months, EMMA-7 required police forces, financial institutions and private sector companies such as Western Union and Microsoft to cooperate in a concerted push against money laundering in Europe, Asia, North America, Colombia and Australia. In addition to cracking down on money laundering through networks of money mules, the investigators also sought out information concerning the origins of these illicit profits, in order to throw more light on the scope and the nature of the criminal activities that employ the services of these money mules.
These were the results of the operation lasting from 15 September to 30 November:
• 18,351 money mules identified
• 324 recruiters identified
• 1,803 individuals arrested
• 2,503 investigations launched
• 7,000 fraudulent transactions reported
• 67.5 million euros of potential theft prevented
EMMA operates through participants from the private sector who report incidents of suspicious or potentially illegal financial conduct to the relevant police authorities. In the same way, the police authorities involved can also ask their partners in the financial sector to investigate suspected money mules. Through this collaboration, the police authorities can build up a profile of the money laundering networks and then decide in each case how to react to the activities of the suspected money mules.
EMMA provides an intermediary channel through which all the partners involved can communicate between themselves, sharing information that will help to identify suspected money mules and potentially lead to their arrest.
The majority of EMMA-7 investigations focused on international operations. The money mules’ activities involve not only the transfer of cash between countries, but also enable them to travel between different countries to open bank accounts in other countries. The criminals can use these accounts later on so as to conduct the money laundering process. The complexity of these money mule operations and the police response to them reflect the ways in which money laundering networks are created. Money muling differs from many financial crimes in that it is possible for the perpetrators to be recruited without their knowledge. Organised crime groups exploit certain social groups such as students, migrants and persons with economic problems by offering them easy ways to make money through job advertisements and online publications that look legitimate.
Ignorance is not an excuse in legal terms, however, and money mules who launder the illicit earnings of organised crime are clearly breaking the law.