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Has your child been asked to be a money mule?

Written by: Emma Lunn
Research by HSBC UK has looked at the financial risks of children playing online games.

It found that one in 10 (10%) have been approached to be a ‘money mule’ while four in 10 (40%) use their parents’ cards to fund weekly in-app purchases.

About a third (29%) of gamers aged between 6 and 15-years-old have spoken to a stranger on a gaming platform, with nearly half (47%) of 15-year-olds in regular contact with people they don’t know.

However, whilst gaming can connect children to other likeminded players it is also being used by fraudsters, with 10% of young gamers being asked to receive and send money as a ‘money mule’. Money mules are often innocent parties who fraudsters use to transfer stolen funds between accounts.

Most children are familiar with spending money on gaming, with an average of £240 a year spent on in-app purchases such as loot boxes which contain additional lives or bonus levels. About a third (27%) of gamers aged 6 to 15 spend £5 a week or less on these.

Whilst planned spend on gaming can help teach children about budgeting, HSBC warned that more than a third (38%) of the money spent in games is unplanned. Four in 10 (40%) children use their parents’ debit or credit card which is linked to their gaming account to fund in-app purchases.

More than a third (34%) don’t tell their parents when they are making a purchase. This rises to more than half (52%) of 15-year-olds. Despite this, about half (49%) of parents say their child has to ask permission before they’re allowed to spend money on games. Only 17% of children aged 6 to 15-years-old have a dedicated gaming allowance.

Parents told HSBC their biggest concerns around their child gaming was them talking to strangers (33%) and picking up bad financial habits (35%). To address these concerns, HSBC has launched a gaming hub on its website to help children stay in control of their money and navigate online games safely.

Annette Whalley, financial wellbeing consultant at HSBC UK, said: “Financial education at an early age can teach children important future life skills. If your child is gaming, then it is essential that they understand key money concepts such as spending and budgeting. The challenge is to stay in control and keep track of spending which is not always easy when your child is in the middle of an exciting new game.

“It’s also crucial that young gamers are made aware of fraud and what to look out for. Identity theft, money muling and account fraud are unfortunately part of the online world but we have lots of resources to help children stay safe while enjoying gaming.”

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: “The global pandemic has seen a huge rise in children’s gaming online and, whilst it is something we want them to continue to enjoy, it’s very important to make sure they are aware of any pitfalls whilst playing.

“Therefore, as parents, it’s vitally important that we all know simple measures to ensure our children can game online safely. This new campaign by HSBC UK is a great initiative which will help ensure our children game for fun, spend carefully and game4good.”

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