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“Walkers”: Using the elderly, disabled, and homeless as money mules for check fraud

Maria Noriega
January 6, 2023
Read Time: 0 min

Check deposit fraud using “walkers”

Financial institutions are seeing increased money mule scams using recruited "customers" to deposit stolen checks.

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Introduction

Fraud scheme uses marginalized individuals as mules

Many financial institutions have been facing a massive spike in check fraud attacks that leverage a combination of old and new fraud tactics, including money mule scams.

Recently, financial institutions have observed a marked increase in check deposit fraud using “walkers." Walkers as it relates to fraud are witting money mules recruited by criminals to deposit compromised/stolen checks in person. Criminals are specifically recruiting and targeting elderly, disabled, and homeless individuals for these money mule scams.

Seeking mules

How "walkers" are hired for money mule scams

Increasingly, recruiters and operators of walkers advertise their mules on underground Telegram channels. There, criminals can seek out walkers of certain genders, ages, and ethnicities.


Criminals typically pay a flat fee of $200-300 to retain the services of a walker. In most cases, the perpetrators do not interface directly with the walker themselves. Instead, they interact directly with a walker operator who oversees the deposit attempts.

Operators aim to make their walkers look like legitimate customers to avoid any hassle at a branch. They obtain fake IDs matching the owners of beneficiary account(s). They often make an effort to dress their walkers well and even groom them at hair salons so as not to raise red flags.

Walkers are hired only to make the deposit in person at a branch. The criminal who hires the services of a walker must already possess a beneficiary (mule) account and stolen or forged checks ready for deposit. Some walker services are quite organized, requiring advanced reservations and keeping tight schedules for their “walks.”

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Mitigating risk

Recommendations for front-line staff

To mitigate the risk of money mule scams in your financial institution, advise tellers to be aware of elderly or disabled individuals attempting to deposit checks, particularly without a debit card and often with an out-of-state ID.

Tellers should always validate the beneficiary account information with the person making the deposit. Sometimes details like gender and age may be overlooked. Front-line staff should be especially diligent when customers:

  • Come in pairs—specifically when only one person makes the check deposit while the other keeps watch from a distance.
  • Use earbuds during a transaction (potentially for communication with an operator).

Consider leveraging dark web intelligence to proactively flag stolen, synthetic, and forged checks well ahead of deposit.

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We can help you navigate changing AML/CFT and fraud regulations. Abrigo's BSA and AML software can help you manage customer or member relationships and stay compliant. Talk to a specialist to learn more.
About the Author

Maria Noriega

Senior Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst, Q6 Cyber
Maria Noriega is a Senior Cyber Threat Intelligence Analyst at Q6 Cyber focusing on financial cybercrime trends in the Digital Underground. Maria’s background includes a MPhil from the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo, Norway and a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Florida International University, as well as

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