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Barclays issues money mule warning to university students

Written by: Emma Lunn
Bank warns that young people are being actively targeted by criminals as they start the new academic year.

New data from Barclays reveals that the number of under-21s being recruited as money mules increased by 97 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

The bank warned that nearly three-quarters of university students don’t realise they could face jail time for acting as a money mule.

Barclays says cash-strapped students are becoming lucrative new targets for fraudsters – with almost a third (30 per cent) of all money mules reported to Barclays last year under the age of 21.

Most victims become money mules unknowingly, as savvy criminals take advantage of university students’ financial worries. Barclays research reveals six in 10 (61 per cent) worry about their financial situation on a weekly basis, which is leaving students vulnerable to some of the common techniques used by fraudsters.

Using channels such as social media and messaging services, students are being lured into laundering dirty cash with fake job adverts offering easy money.

Six in 10 (57 per cent) would be tempted to find out more about a ‘too good to be true’ job advert that offered ‘easy money with no experience’, and half (50 per cent) would be interested in an offer of ‘free money from the comfort of your own home’.

Barclays says it is the lack of understanding of the risks involved that is making students increasingly vulnerable. Seven in 10 (74 per cent) admit to not being aware of the consequences of being caught laundering money, which could include a lengthy prison sentence, and half (50 per cent) do not even know what a money mule is.

Barclays is offering the following advice to young people:

  • Keep control. Don’t give away any of your bank account details, unless you know and trust the person receiving them – and never let anyone else access your account.
  • Money for nothing? Be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money as this is a common tactic used by criminals to recruit money mules.
  • Tell someone you trust. Whether it’s a parent, tutor or friend, make sure you tell someone you trust about any concerns you might have.
  • Take time to think. Remember that letting someone else use your bank account is a potentially serious crime which could damage your financial future – is it worth it?
  • Too good to be true? Remember the simple rule of thumb about offers of easy money: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Ross Martin, head of digital safety at Barclays, said: “We know criminal gangs are ruthlessly targeting cash-strapped students on campuses across the UK, with the aim of tricking them into laundering their dirty money.

“Worryingly, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of student money mules who unwittingly allow criminals to access their bank accounts, unaware that the money flowing in and out is often connected to serious crime. It is vital that all students are aware of the risks and can spot the warning signs when they think they are in danger.

“Providing young people with the necessary tools and knowledge can help prevent criminals from taking advantage of students in vulnerable financial situations.”

Earlier this week UK Finance and CIFAS launched the Don’t Be Fooled campaign to warn about the dangers of acting as a money mule, and advising parents how to spot if their child has been lured into money laundering.

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