B.C. authorities deliver warnings to 10 suspected 'money mules'

RCMP Supt. Adam MacIntosh says authorities have warned 10 people suspected of transferring money on behalf of criminals in the Lower Mainland. (Martin Diotte/CBC - image credit)
RCMP Supt. Adam MacIntosh says authorities have warned 10 people suspected of transferring money on behalf of criminals in the Lower Mainland. (Martin Diotte/CBC - image credit)

British Columbia's securities watchdog and the RCMP say they have sent out warnings to nearly a dozen suspected "money mules" — people alleged to have transferred money on behalf of criminals.

The B.C. Securities Commission (BCSC) identified 10 suspects after it uncovered information that they sent or received money or cryptocurrency that was obtained from victims of investment fraud, according to the RCMP.

The suspects in Metro Vancouver were hand-delivered warning letters in late May, according to police, and could be criminally charged if they continue to transfer funds on behalf of criminals.

"Money mules are used during money laundering. They allow criminals to move their ill-gotten gains by concealing the identity and also concealing the source and destination of funds," BCSC investigations manager Sammy Wu told reporters Monday.

Authorities say "money mules" may not know they're helping criminals and may even be victims of an investment scam themselves.

Sammy Wu with the BCSC says suspected money mules have allegedly transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of criminals. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

How money mules are recruited

Police say criminals recruit money mules using several tactics.

Criminals might lie about their identity, promise job offers, or start an online friendship or romance with people, often promising a portion of the transferred funds.

Wu said it's difficult to quantify exactly how much money has been transferred but estimates it's in the hundreds of thousands.

People who move money for criminals can be criminally charged for possession or laundering the proceeds of crime. The BCSC can also make misconduct allegations under B.C.'s Securities Act if a person moves money for others as part of an investment fraud scheme.

Investment fraud scams in Canada are usually part of larger criminal networks overseas, according to police. The BCSC started investigating investment fraud scams in 2020, Wu said.

In the early phase of the probe, organized crime groups allegedly behind the scams were from Nigeria and Eastern Europe, according to Wu. Now the groups are mostly from southeast Asia, he said, although other countries are still involved.

Hamilton police are warning the public about a possible fraud scam involving online dating.
Hamilton police are warning the public about a possible fraud scam involving online dating.

The RCMP says you shouldn't move money on someone’s behalf if you haven’t met them in person, and ignore online messages that promise quick money for little or no work. (iStockphoto)

"We know that there are multiple organized crime groups involved," said Supt. Adam MacIntosh with the RCMP's financial integrity program.

Wu said the use of local money mules has grown.

RCMP advise people to not move money on someone's behalf if they haven't met them in person, and to ignore online messages that promise quick money for little or no work. If you have already received money or cryptocurrency from a person you met online, police say you should tell your bank and report it to the BCSC or RCMP.