Money Mule Scam Targets Restaurant Owners

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There's a group of individuals firing out emails at the moment that bear all the classic hallmarks of a typical "Money Mule" scam. For those who don't know what a Money Mule scam is, the following extract from this page will be useful:

As most of the fraudsters behind these scams are located overseas and it is not possible to make cross-border transfers out of UK online bank accounts overseas, a "money mule" or "money transfer agent" is required to launder the funds obtained as a result of phishing and Trojan scams. After being recruited by the fraudsters, money mules receive funds into their accounts and they then withdraw the money and send it overseas using a wire transfer service, minus a certain commission payment.

What is the scam in question, I hear you ask? Well, it seems someone is currently targeting restaurant owners - first, making a general enquiry with regards the price for a large party to come and have a meal. Once they have the confidence of the victim (and offering to pay in advance with a card that is likely stolen), they then mention that there is a problem with the travel agent they're using to fly out. Typically, the payment system is "broken" and so the only way they can still make it over is if the helpful restaurant owner handles the travel payment themselves (with the tempting offer of a cut of the cash).

You know it's all going to end in tears if you get sent an email with the following:

However, the prepaid agent has just informed us that their credit card merchant/terminal is faulty and is currently undergoing online upgrading and therefore cannot charge credit cards.So, we kindly solicit that once you are in receipt of my credit card details.

You are required to charge ? 7000.00 in  your account ,then deduct ? 2000.00 as initial deposit , And the transfer ? 5000.00 to the prepaid flight/travel consultant, whose information I will forward to you once this is confirmed
.

Sounds too good to be true, and of course, it is. What will happen here is that the police (and bank) will investigate the transactions made on the stolen card, only to find 2,000 Euros sitting in the bank account of the restaurant owner, a further 5,000 Euros that have been forwarded on to a third party (posing as a "Travel Consultant") by the restaurant owner (which isn't going to go down too well with the police) and a fake reservation that they cannot fulfill (though that'll be the least of their worries at this point).

Read on after the jump to see the dialogue that took place between the scammers and the person who forwarded warning of this scam onto me...


Here is the first EMail sent through by the scammers on the 18th of April. Note there's nothing particularly out of the ordinary here:

Betreff: DINING...........RESERVATION

Good day Sir/Madam,

I am Mr. **************** from UK. I and my colleagues wish to make a
reservation with you, for a group of 10 guests coming for a Dinner in your
restaurants.

There will be a total number of 10 guests, and we will be coming for dinner
From the 23rd-28th of June 2008.

Please confirm if your availability for theses period. We do not have any
Special dietary restrictions.

Note that all payment arrangements for our Bookings has been finalized by
credit card prepayment,

So kindly confirm if you accept credit card payments.

I shall be waiting for your prompt response.

Warmest Regards,

Note the spelling, grammar and other oddities in the way the mail is written suggests someone that is not, perhaps, a native English speaker. However, all is still fairly normal at this point. Another mail comes through on the 23rd - again, nothing that leaps out as being unusual:

Many thanks for your prompt response. We will appreciate if you prepare a 3-course menu for my group for the dinner. No special dietary. We will be happy for any suggestion you may render since this is our first dinner in your restaurant.
 
Kindly provide the total cost of the dinner for the 10 persons for the dinner so as to provide my credit card details for pre-payment confirmation.
 
Time: 7.00 pm every evening.
No dietary concerns we are flexible on our budget.
Confirm if you can provide lodging as well (Double occupancy, double rooms)
Number of guests: 10 adults.
Booking dates: 3rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, and the 28th of June 2008.
Mode of Payment: We will be making a pre-payment via credit card to secure and confirm booking.
 
Your response will be appreciated.
 Warmest Regards,


So far, so good. But then, on the 23rd this comes through:

Dear,
 
Thanks for your reply and assistance so far. Please do because this is our frist time coming to your location and do not know much about the area, we will be nssding 5 double rooms double ocupancy.
 
I kindly ask for your assistance on your bookings on transportation logistics, which we have concluded with a traveling agent, for our Flights bookings, Airport transfers bookins buth on arrival and on departure during their stay.


.....wait, assistance on flight bookings? That sounds a little.....odd. However, it gets worse. On the 25th, this arrives in the mailbox:

Thanks for your reply and assistance so far.I am glad to tell you that we have concluded all payment arrangements. I will send to you credit card details that will cover the cost of our booking,and the necessary arrangement for the guests.

Moreover,we also made an arrangement with a logistics agent who will take care of the following logistics to include.

1) Flights
2) Airport transfers on arrival and on departure
3)Transportation logistics during their stay
4) Accommodation bookings
 
However, the prepaid agent has just informed us that their credit card merchant/terminal is faulty and is currently undergoing online upgrading and therefore cannot charge credit cards.So, we kindly solicit that once you are in receipt of my credit card details.

You are required to charge ? 7000.00 in  your account ,then deduct ? 2000.00 as initial deposit , And the transfer ? 5000.00 to the prepaid flight/travel consultant, whose information I will forward to you once this is confirmed.

N.B: All checks and balances will be made with you onthe final day of the booking. So confirm this and provide me with your:-

1. YOUR FULL NAME-------------------------
2. ADDRESS----------------------------
3. PHONE NUMBERS-----------------for office records.
 
PLEASE CONFIRM IF THIS ARRANGEMENT IS OK AND REPLY
PROMPTLY TO ENABLE US PROCEED
.

I don't know about you, but at this point the voices in my head are saying to run away very quickly! Later on that day, another email comes through - this time, with the faintly panicky title "My Credit Card Details......charge IMMEDIATELY":

Thanks for your kind e-mail .Please find below my credit card details below for you to charge the stated amount of 7,000 Euros for our booking as well as the  Travel/flight consultant arrangements as discussed.

You are to deduct the stated amount of  2,000 Euros as the deposit payment for our accommodation, and assist us send the remaining balance of 5,000 Euros to the Travel/flight consultant as I have instructed you both in my e-mail and on the telephone discussions.
 
Credit Card Details:


It's all over bar the shouting for anyone unfortunate enough to say "yes" to the deal at this point. Apparently the card being used in this case has now been canceled and the bank / police have been notified. A very big hat tip to the individual who passed these emails onto me - these scammers will no doubt surface again and try to trick more unsuspecting victims into getting involved in something that will give them a very bad day...


2 Comments

Test comment.

Great blog here guys!

Have you heard of the 409 eaters? They've been tracking these guys down for quite a while now and while their tactics could be considered dubious by some folks, the stories they chart are hilarious and informative: http://www.419eater.com/

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This page contains a single entry by Christopher Boyd published on May 27, 2008 10:44 AM.

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