Imagine this ? you open up your email box and an international company is offering you a dream job ? you can be an agent for them ? a financial intermediary ? receiving payments for them and transferring money to them, and, naturally, keeping a commission on each transaction.
There's no investment, no money required. They are just looking for people with a good reputation that they can trust with their money.
The company needs a local agent because US banking laws restrict the accounts that a foreign company has, unless they have a U.S. citizen as a registered agent of the company.
It sounds really good. After all, the company is overseas and it needs a U.S. Agent to receive payments and all you have to do is wire-transfer the money to the company account overseas, less your commission.
There seems to be no way to lose, since you won't be putting out any of YOUR money and YOU have control over all incoming and outgoing payments.
You can't lose, can you?
Unfortunately you can. Take this job and you become a "money mule" ? an unwitting participant in a scheme to defraud others. Here's how it works: The company may or may not have a good looking website with what sounds like a legitimate name, "Techhydraulik" and says it's based in Germany.
Sounds like it is a technology company having something to do with hydraulics, doesn't it?
However, it is really an Internet front for Bad Guys who need to be able to transfer money out of the United States from people that they have defrauded through "Phishing."
Phishing is the practice of setting up fake bank sites that look just like the real bank site (for example, Wells Fargo) and sending emails to millions of people saying that there is an irregularity in their Wells Fargo account and to "click on the link to confirm your information or your account will be closed".
When you click on the link and fill out the fields for your account number, username and passwords, it sends the information to the Bad Guys who empty your account. Believe it or not, tens of thousands of people fall for this each year.
The Bad Guys then send the payment to their agent (you), and you wire-transfer the money, less your commission, to their overseas account.
Several weeks or months later, perhaps, there is a knock at your door and the FBI wants to know why you are receiving stolen funds. You explain that the funds are not stolen, they are payments for equipment purchased by people from Techhydraulik, and you are their legitimate agent.
You may not be held criminally liable since you were an unknowing dupe, but you may certainly be liable for repayment of all of the money that passed through your hands.
And of course, the real perpetrators have long ago closed that overseas account and disappeared.
How can you protect yourself?
Go to www.betterwhois.com and look up the information about the company's website. You'll be able to see when the .com was registered.
Typically, the names are registered just a few days before the email is sent out, because the individual websites are generally only up for a few days or weeks, to make it hard for authorities to trace. For example, techhydraulik.com was registered on August 2nd and the fraudulent email was sent out on August 15. Chances are the website will be gone shortly.
The techhydraulik.com website is hosted by computers in Russia where laws are lax and recovery is unlikely. It's also possible that if you did visit the techhydraulik site, your computer would be infested with password stealers, key loggers and spyware.
The Internet is a wonderful tool. It is also a place where you need to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
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© Steve Freedman, Archer Strategic Alliances 2005 All Rights Reserved