Blake Dowling: The business of (digital) mules

Donkey head close-up taken by downside
Just like all cybercrime, these types of criminal activity will continue until we stop falling for them.

Doing my part in fighting cybercrime, I give cybersecurity presentations for various organizations and groups.

This month it was with the Legal Administrators Association of Tallahassee.

We discussed the usual gift card schemes, phishing attempts, and ransomware attacks.

They have a great group; thanks to Sandra and Christine for having me as a guest.

Talking about cybersecurity in Tallahassee this month with the Legal Administrators Association.

As we closed the session, I gave out a few rules of best practices online, kind of like Gibbs from NCIS with his rules.

Rule #1: Do not click an email without verifying its authenticity.

Rule #2: Do not give money, credentials, passwords, or any banking info to anyone without verifying why they are asking.

If you follow these two rules, you will avoid most cybercrime.

One kind of cybercrime I didn’t mention was the various romance scams and the prevalence of money mules. This category of crime is rarely revealed — victims are too humiliated or embarrassed to come forward after the fraud is uncovered.

Off-topic and speaking of mules (real ones), my great-grandfather, JD Holman, was in the real mule business at the turn of the century. A customer came into the store one day and asked for a mule.

Holman said, “I have one for you, but he ‘don’t look so good.’”

The customer bought the mule but returned him the next day: “Holman, that mule you sold me is blind.”

To that, my great-grandfather said, I told you he “didn’t look so good.” HA. My grandfather told that story every year at his birthday party.

The family mule business, approx. 1905 in Ozark, Alabama.

Anyway, from real mules back to digital ones.

Let’s say you are a 65-year-old, and your spouse has recently died, or you are a 19-year-old and not sure what you want to do with your life. You spend more time on social media than normal to pass the time.

You are contacted by a person your age, and they begin a digital romantic conversation. They send pictures; they start telling you stories about their illness or legal troubles. They set the hook; this is the con.

Then the ask comes.

They ask you if you will help them by opening a bank account to send children to school or something positive sounding. You are in a vulnerable state, so you do it.

They then wire you money and ask you to buy gift cards or bitcoin to send to other places. Guess what? You are now a money launderer, and those dollars you are cleansing could be from drug sales or other nefarious activity.

The FBI has a name for this: Money Mule.

If you followed Rule #2, this would not be a thing, but it is unfortunate for those fooled by this. You most likely are thinking, “who would fall for that scheme?”

Meet a janitor from Apopka, a money mule for over 6 years, while he thought he was in a romantic relationship with a woman he met on Facebook.

The woman claimed she was from Niagara Falls and needed help with her struggling church. For years, this person sent gift and debit cards overseas. He never caught on, but one day this year, the Secret Service was waiting at his house to break the news that he would not be married to this person one day. In fact, he was being scammed.

Recently in North Florida, a man was sentenced to prison for being a willing money mule. David Murray of Chattahoochee was charged with his involvement in a “Jamaican lottery” scam.

In this swindle, individuals are notified that they have “won” the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, and they need to send money on the taxes to Murray.

Murray then collects the money, keeps a small portion, and sends the rest to Jamaica. There are many variants to this scam. How about a job that sounds too good to be true for a young person? They get sent the first paycheck and deposit it before it clears; the person who sends it asks for a small payment for supplies, business cards, uniforms, etc.

In Melbourne, there was another willing mule who perpetuated COVID-19 related unemployment fraud. The list goes on and on of those duped and those who wanted in on the action in our state. This video from the U.S. Postal Service shows another example of someone getting a priority letter in the mail (versus social media introduction) with a request and instructions of what they want you to do: participating in crime and being a money mule.

Just like all cybercrime, these types of criminal activity will continue until we stop falling for them (or participating in them).

While reading this, you may not be vulnerable to this type of thing, but people in your life might be. If you hear your nephew or grandmother discussing a “new friend” or a “job” that sounds too good to be true, ask more questions and make sure they are not being swindled. I asked my mom if she ever clicked on any of the random texts, she texts from people promising free stuff, she said, of course, and I still have not gotten my free iPad. Oooof. Our job is to train and assist those who need it, and if you see something, report it ASAP.

Let’s put these bad actors out of the mule business.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies, the author of the book Professionally Distanced, the Biz & Tech podcast host, and he writes for several organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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