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Symantec Intelligence

Scammers exploit the goodwill of “volunteers” from India

Created: 06 Apr 2010
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By Martin Lee, Senior Software Engineer, Symantec Hosted Services

A common tactic of scammers is to exploit the desire of individuals to do good while doing well – to associate themselves with good works while making a little money. In the process these individuals become money mules, unwitting participants in the shadow economy.

One recent scam email purports to be from the Red Cross in Norway looking to recruit volunteers in India to process payments. Volunteers are offered a commission of 7% from the sums of money that they process and are offered up to $500/month. In reality, the email is from organised cyber criminals looking to recruit people to launder money stolen from attacks on bank accounts or from scams.

Criminals need to recruit networks of money mules who unknowingly accept transfers of stolen money into their bank accounts then transfer the money on to bank accounts controlled by the criminals. Often the money transfers are cross border, designed to frustrate police investigations trying to trace the money to the accounts of the perpetrators.

There are at least three classes of victims; the original targets of the scams or account holders and their banks, the money mules who can be subject to investigation and prosecution, and the charities who see their hard earned reputations exploited.

The bottom line is that if the opportunity is too good to be true, whatever the proposed benefit, it is likely a scam. With Indian internet adoption rapidly increasing (estimates vary widely from 40-100 million regular users currently) scammers see India as a significant opportunity. Educating users so they don’t unwittingly participate in the shadow economy is one way we can fight back.