TAMPA, Fla. — As people continue to search for work-from-home jobs, employment scams are on the rise.
Of more concern, the Tampa bureau of the FBI and Better Business Bureau West Florida are warning of a common employment scam that could land those targeted behind bars.
It's a trade-based money laundering scheme, dubbed the "package mule scam." People are contacted by scammers and led to believe they have a legitimate job as a package inspector. These people are asked to receive an array of packages at their home, then check out the package, add a new label and ship it out.
What those targeted may not know is these packages were likely purchased illegally, maybe with stolen credit card information, and they're being used as a middleman, muddying the supply chain and making it harder for police to track bad actors down.
Most concerning, not only are these people scammed out of valuable time and potentially personal information, once they send the packages out, they're also committing a crime.
Keith Givens, a supervisory special agent with the Tampa division of the FBI, said, "Anyone participating in one of the scams is committing money laundering."
The BBB Scam Tracker website has a dozen reports from people in the greater Tampa area detailing this type of scheme.
In January, one Tampa-area victim reported to the BBB that they inspected and shipped packages for a month before they were contacted by the post inspector saying the packages they were shipping had been bought with a stolen credit card.
Givens said the scheme is made possible by the high demand for well-paying work-from-home jobs.
"The pandemic has caused the average individual looking for a job to seek much less physical proof about the existence of the employer, what the employer does, how the employer earns their income, and whether or not they are a legitimate company," said Givens.
He says this employment scam should raise a red flag because it's a task the company should be able to do itself.
Another red flag is "if the company asks the individual to be hired to open a bank account in their own name or purchase goods in their own name versus purchasing something in the company name," said Givens.
In the state of Florida, the penalties for money laundering are harsh. Anything between $300 - $20,000 in a year is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
However, the Better Business Bureau says the best thing you can do to protect yourself, is to file a report with law enforcement.
"It's important to reach out to law enforcement and let them know that you were not aware of that and that you didn't know what you were doing," said Bryan Oglesby, the Director of Public Relation BBB West Florida.
Have you been the target of an employment scam?
You can report it on the Better Business Bureau's "Scam Tracker" website.
In the case of this package mule scam, you should also contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.