Money mules: Sketchy job offers flood Twitter

Messages about easy but fraudulent work are plaguing the social media platform

A Twitter user reads a direct message with a questionable job offer.
A Twitter user reads a direct message with a questionable job offer.Clara Rebollo

“Are you looking for a part-time job? Do you want to work online?” This is how the direct messages to Twitter users start. Some days, four or five of these offers for remote or part-time work may come in. These messages are almost always in English, which may raise suspicions if you don’t speak that language. And they are never personalized because the senders dispatch these messages to large groups of Twitter users.

Recipients of these messages are instructed to contact the supposed employer via another messaging app to find out more about the job offer, some of which are in “sales growth services” for ecommerce companies. However, cybersecurity expert Josep Albors says that this is the same approach “for recruiting mules that we’ve seen for more than 10 years.” Cybercriminals first used email, then text messages, and now social networks for their recruiting pitches.

Sample Twitter direct message to recruit money mules.
Sample Twitter direct message to recruit money mules.

A money mule receives money obtained from victims of cybercrime or bank account thefts, and then transfers it to criminals who are usually in another country, says Albors. Money mules may not even know that they are committing a crime. “You receive money without knowing where it comes from, and then forward it to accounts owned by the criminals. You assume it’s all legal and keep a commission,” Albors said. The criminals often make it look like a legitimate business.

The money mules are taking all the risk because they use their own bank accounts to receive and transfer the money – and they’re the first people the police and tax authorities go after. “It’s quite difficult to identify the people behind it all because they are constantly changing the accounts used to receive the money transfers. They empty and close bank accounts, and then open new ones all over the world. It’s not as easy as finding and arresting the money mule,” said Albors.

Albors says that cryptocurrency pyramid schemes are another widespread scam. “They entice people with promises of huge profits if they invest in a cryptocurrency.” These cybercriminals want to lure vulnerable people in tough financial circumstances who aren’t going to ask a lot of questions. However, these spam campaigns are blasted out to as many users as possible, no matter who or where they are. “Cybercriminals protect their anonymity and aren’t worried about who receives these messages. They send them out to as many users as they can, trolling for anyone who will bite,” said Albors.

Although every email, SMS and social media platform is plagued by spam, the money mule job offers are mainly seen on Twitter. When asked about the problem, the social media company responded: “We fight spam and malicious bots with machine learning tools, and regularly review and update our rules to ensure they are enforced as intended. In the last year, we have acted on millions of tweets and accounts.”

To keep your account secure, Twitter recommends reporting suspicious direct messages (click into the Direct Message conversation and find the message you’d like to flag. Click the information icon and click report@username). They also warn against downloading any attachments or clicking on links, and advise users to delete suspicious messages from the inbox immediately. For more protection, Twitter users should update their app settings to manage who is allowed to send them direct messages. Users are reminded that they are in control and can choose not to accept direct messages from users they do not follow.

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