A 22-year-old Dutch national arrested by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) mid-December is facing the Australian court today. They suspect him of helping cybercrime syndicates transfer more than $2.7 million (AUD $3.5) from Australian bank accounts to offshore accounts. He allegedly took a 5% commission on each transfer.
Malware Targeting Bank Account Holders
Early last year, the Australian Federal Police started an investigation into a money mule network. Money mules transferred stolen funds from bank account holders to offshore accounts. Cybercriminals extracted the funds from people’s bank accounts after they deployed malware to extract their bank account information.
The cybercrime syndicate believed to be responsible for the malware used a money mule network to launder the money abroad. The Police believe they stole more than AUD $3.5 million from Australian bank account holders. The amount of money stolen from international accounts cannot yet be determined.
The AFP’s investigations led them from the account of one of the victims to an account belonging to a young Dutchman. They believe he is part of a larger money mule network. Money mules withdraw money the cybercriminals deposit in their account as cash. Next, they convert the cash to Bitcoin via a Bitcoin ATM. And finally, they transfer the money offshore. In return, they get a 5% commission.
Young Man Arrested
On 16 December 2020 arrested the then 21-year-old when he attended a police station in Queensland, Australia, for an unrelated matter. They then charged the Dutchman with laundering money that was suspected to be criminal proceeds.
Investigations revealed that the man on one occasion laundered AUD $18,000 minus his commission. He used a bitcoin ATM in Sydney to transfer the money overseas.
A bitcoin ATM is simply an automated teller machine (ATM) people use to buy or sell Bitcoin using cash or a debit card. A Bitcoin ATM looks like a traditional ATM but connects the user to a Bitcoin wallet or exchange instead of a bank account.
Accused Faces Two Years Imprisonment
The police released the man on bail. He is due to appear before the Australian court today. If convicted, he faces two years’ imprisonment, 120 penalty units (PU) or both. Each penalty unit represents a set amount of money. The current rate is between AUD $133.45 (in Queensland) and AUD $222 depending on whether the breach is at a state or at federal level.
Chris Goldsmid, the Commander of the AFP’s Cybercrime Operations said that “if something sounds too good to be true, then it often is”. The Police warn job seekers who may be unwittingly applying for a money mule-like position to look out for certain signs. For example, poorly written advertisements form overseas “companies” to act on their behalf, job descriptions involving transferring money with “no education or experience required” or advertisements promising “same day cash”.
“Would-be money mules need to look beyond earning that quick cash,” Commander Goldsmid added. “As we believe happened in this investigation, you just might be helping a cybercrime syndicate steal thousands of dollars from honest everyday Australians.”
Investigations into both the cybercrime syndicate and the money mule network are ongoing.