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A huge law enforcement operation in Europe led to the arrest of 168 people that resulted in the identification of 1,504 money mules.

The European Money Mule Action ‘EMMA 4,’ a global law enforcement action, took place over the course of three months, from September to November.

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As a result, authorities in 30 states were able to identify 140 money mule organizers, Europol officials said in a post.

A truly global operation, the action saw involvement from Europol, Eurojust, the European Banking Federation, and law enforcement from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Australia, Moldova, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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As part of the money laundering crackdown, arrests were made in 20 states, in a coordinated effort to tackle the issue of “money mules,” who help launder millions.

EMMA 4 resulted in the opening of 837 criminal investigations, many of which are still ongoing, Europol officials said. Over 300 banks, 20 bank associations, and other financial institutions helped reporting 26,376 fraudulent money mule transactions, thus preventing a loss of $41.1 million (€36.1 million).

Money mules are people who have been recruited by criminal organizations to hide the origin of ill-gotten money. Often tricked by the promise of easy money, these mules help cybercriminals transfer stolen funds between accounts and are usually offered a share of those funds.

Cybercriminals usually target newcomers to a country, or people who are unemployed or in economic distress. The authorities also noticed an increase in cases involving young people selected by money mule recruiters, with financially-distressed students increasingly targeted.

There has also been an increase in money-mule recruiting operations carried out via social media, via ads for fake jobs or get-rich-quick posts, law enforcement officials said. Although the transfer of money from an account to another might take a single click, mules may face lengthy imprisonments and acquire a criminal record affecting the rest of their fives.

Almost 300 house searches were conducted as part of the operation, 1,500 counterfeit euro banknotes seized, along with drugs, weapons (firearms, nunchaku, illegal knives and blades), computers, mobile phones, Bitcoins and hardware for mining virtual currencies.

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