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Free ads site could help fraudsters recruit middlemen

Saddling up money mules

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Popular UK-based free ads website Adzooks is inadvertently helping fraudsters by failing to properly screen job offers for obvious cons, anti-fraud activists have warned.

Ads which offer easy money working from home are often actually attempts to recruiting phishing mules, says Early Warning.

Typically, the fraudsters behind the "phishing" scams are located outside the UK. Since they are unable to transfer money directly from a victims' online account overseas, UK intermediaries - or "mules" - are hired to transfer money into other UK bank accounts before sending it overseas. Historically, these middlemen have been recruited via email, but a lack of screening by Adzooks creates a more plausible route to fraud.

Using trusted names like Costa Coffee - which has nothing to do with the scams - fraudsters are enticing the unwary into illegal money-laundering without the victims' knowledge.

"These criminals are making money mules out of innocent people by advertising on an apparently responsible website. They get individuals to use their bank accounts and other personal details to process payments for a percentage of what they don't realise are the proceeds of crime," warned Andrew Goodwill, managing director of Early Warning. "Ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law, so these people themselves become criminals".

Early Warning placed a spoof advert on Adzooks last Saturday - headed Work From Home by becoming a money mule - in order to determine whether the site was properly monitored for obvious scams.

Despite stating on its site that working from home ads will be removed, Adzooks has consistently failed to stop them. Early Warning has repeatedly advised Trinity media group, which publishes Adzooks, as well as the Daily Mirror, that its vetting system is failing.

"Owners and operators of free classified ad websites - which litter the internet - have a social responsibility to make sure they protect the surfing public," Goodwill added.

Neither Adzooks nor parent company Trinity Mirror responded to our requests for comment on how it screened its ads at the time of going to press. Early Warning's obvious bogus ad remains live on the site here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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