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Growth in number of middle-aged money mules

Written by: Emma Lunn
Cifas and UK Finance are warning of the increasing number of middle-aged money mules and businesses being recruited to launder money.

The fraud prevention agency and banking trade body are warning that criminals are shifting the focus in their money mule recruitment strategies, now typically targeting 40 to 60-year-olds and business owners.

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.

Mule herders

Traditionally, criminals have focussed on recruiting mostly younger people and students as money mules. However, the latest data from the National Fraud Database found a 34% increase in the number of accounts belonging to 40 to 60-year-olds bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity since 2017.

Mule herders – criminals who recruit money mules – are likely to be targeting this age group on the belief that larger transactions typically made by this age group may be less likely to appear suspicious.

Research also shows that criminals are changing tack to trick unwitting mules into taking part. This includes placing fake job adverts on recruitment websites and social media platforms designed to gather applicants’ bank details by claiming they are required for wages to be paid into. In most cases, funds are then forwarded to the account and the unwitting mule is asked to transfer the money to a different account.

Keith Rosser, chair of JobsAware, said: “The emergence of middle-aged money mules shows how the pandemic has made it much easier for fraudsters to target people of all ages online. People of all ages have become increasingly reliant on technology because of Covid, and those in their 40s and 50s are no exception.”

Business accounts

Cifas says that in 2020 there was a 26% increase in the number of business accounts involved in money mule activity compared to the previous year. In line with the recruitment of middle-aged mules, criminals may perceive the movement of large sums in these business accounts as appearing to be less suspicious.

Intelligence from Cifas and UK Finance members also revealed that criminals are advertising on social media and dark web forums seeking those who had business accounts. To entice account holders, criminals often include screenshots of successful fraudulent Bounce Back Loan payments in the advert.

People who become money mules are often not aware that the cash they are laundering is often stolen from innocent victims of fraud, as well as used to facilitate serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

Mike Haley, chief executive of Cifas, said: “Criminals have been upping their game to recruit money mules and abuse their accounts. There is no doubt they have been looking to use different account holders and try different techniques to find out which transactions are the least likely to be detected and can launder the most funds.

“However, banks and other institutions are collaborating to move quickly on this issue. In 2020, Cifas members shared over 31,000 alerts to warn other banks that their customer’s account had been identified as taking part in fraudulent conduct. It’s through such reciprocal data sharing that we’ll see the greatest impact in taking the fight to the fraudsters.”

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