Fraudsters are getting consumers to unwittingly handle and forward stolen goods.
An offshoot of the ‘money mules’ scams, people are being duped into agreeing to take in goods and forwarding these on to addresses in other countries.
Unlike the 'money mules' scams, where victims have applied for a job thinking that they are legitimately transferring funds for a company, the parcel mules don’t receive any payment.
Instead the fraudsters play on their victims' better nature or loneliness to dupe them into acting as ‘depots' for goods bought using stolen credit or debit card details.
The mule forwards the goods on to criminals in other countries or criminal associates will pick them up from the victim.
According to online card fraud monitor The 3rd Man, which teamed up with ITV’s Tonight programme to expose this twist, women using dating websites are particularly vulnerable.
One woman was targeted by an African man on a dating website, who claimed he worked for a children’s orphanage. At one point she was taking in 30 parcels a week of electronic gadgets, which she sent on to the address the fraudster gave her.
Andrew Goodwill, director of The 3rd Man, said: “The parcels sent to the parcel mules we found were in different names paid for by stolen credit or debit card details. But even though these people are innocent of what is going on, they could still be charged as an accessory. Ignorance is no defence.”
Mr Goodwill said he hoped that the Tonight programme will “go some way to warning vulnerable individuals, particularly people using dating websites, that they should be wary of deceitful and unscrupulous individuals posing as their friends”.
He warned the fraudsters that UK retailers are becoming far more aware of the use of human mules, which is how The 3rd Man detected the latest scam.
“Criminals may think they are invisible, but actually UK retailers have become far more savvy to techniques such as ‘parcel mules’ and are using shared data schemes more extensively to prevent theft,” he said.
Money mules are generally recruited through fake financial job advertisements. They are asked to use their bank accounts to receive funds and forward these on to another country after taking a small commission.
The funds are often taken from hijacked bank accounts so the mule will also be defrauded by the criminals. The cheques are either counterfeit or their bank will issue a chargeback on the victim’s account, leaving them out of pocket.
In September this year, APACS, the UK payments association, revealed the extent of the problem in the UK. Its data showed 873 detected fake job adverts for money mules in the first half of 2008, up 345 per cent over the past three years, and 33 per cent on last year.
By Dinah Greek