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Fake online ads aim to recruit money mules

Written by: Emma Lunn
Money mule recruiters are targeting people looking for work during the pandemic by posting fake adverts on jobs websites and social media.

UK Finance and CIFAS have warned what they call ‘Generation Covid’ to be wary of any offers of earning quick and easy cash online.

Figures reveal there were more than 17,000 suspected money mule cases involving 21 to 30-year-olds in 2020, up 5% on the previous year.

What is a money mule?

A money mule is a person who receives money from a third party in their bank account and transfers it to another one or takes it out in cash and gives it to someone else, obtaining a commission for it.

Money muling is a type of money laundering and could lead to a criminal record, the closure of your bank account, and difficulty getting a mobile phone contract.

Cash laundered by money mules is often used by criminals to facilitate serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

Young people targeted

Young people whose job prospects have been impacted by the pandemic are being targeted online by criminals looking to recruit money mules to launder the profits of their crimes.

Young people are most commonly targeted with 21 to 30-year-olds accounting for 42% of money mule activity in 2020, up from 38% three years ago.

This age group is among the hardest hit by the economic impact of Covid-19, with thousands facing job losses as a result of the pandemic and graduates entering the jobs market at a time of great uncertainty.

Criminals typically post adverts on legitimate jobs websites or social media, using terms such as ‘money transfer agents’ or ‘local processors’ to recruit people to launder the profits of their crimes.

They may also create profiles on social media platforms, infiltrate popular groups or special interest pages to seek out suitable targets, and post images showing off a luxury lifestyle. Increasingly, money mule recruiters are making use of heavily encrypted instant messaging services to avoid detection.

Be cautious

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “We would urge everyone to remain cautious about any offers of quick and easy money and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

“At the same time, online platforms must take swift action to detect and take down content being used to promote money muling activity. Organised criminal gangs use money mules to launder the profits of their devastating crimes, including fraud, drugs smuggling and people trafficking. We all have a duty to stop them.”

Mike Haley, chief executive officer of CIFAS, said: “Allowing your bank account to be used to transfer funds is illegal. Although transferring funds doesn’t feel like it’s doing any harm, the money you’re being asked to move often comes from scams and crimes committed against innocent members of the public.

“We’re now seeing more variations of this type of activity including mules being asked to buy cryptocurrencies or gift cards to mask the stolen funds, making it even more difficult for organisations to trace this money and return it to victims.

“Banks now have sophisticated technology to detect mule activity. When mules are caught, they can expect their bank accounts to be closed and face great difficulty in obtaining credit, mobile phones or loans in the future. It is vital that you keep your bank account to yourself and not be fooled into taking part in this illegal activity.”

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