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The hashtags that could land you in jail

Written by: Emma Lunn
Santander warning about social media posts that could lure young people into becoming money mules.

A former fraudster has joined forces with Santander to educate people about the methods criminals use to recruit innocent people into becoming money mules – a crime which can result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Money mules are people who allow criminals to use their bank accounts to transfer money associated with illegal activity, often with the promise of payment in return.

According to Santander, 70 per cent of people are unaware of what a money mule actually is, underlining just how vulnerable the majority of people are to money mule recruiters.

The number of money mules has increased by 26 per cent in the past year alone, according to CIFAS, with almost half (49 per cent) of money mules aged under 25-years-old.

Santander commissioned reformed scam artist Tony Sales to investigate how criminals use hashtags to lure people in to becoming money mules. In the process of his investigation, Sales identified 10 hashtags that are commonly associated with money mule recruitment.

The hashtags are:

  • #Moneyflipsuk
  • #legitmoneyflips
  • #PayPalFlip
  • #RealMoneyTransfers
  • #UkFlips
  • #EasyMoney
  • #MoneyFlipz
  • #cashappflop
  • #moneyflips
  • #CashLdn

Santander’s research also found that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of people said they would engage with and click on social media posts featuring these types of ‘easy money’ hashtags, with #PayPalFlip being the most tempting of those hashtags identified. This figure rises to 27 per cent for the under-25s, an age group particularly targeted online by money mule recruiters.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of under-25s polled admitted to having actually engaged with a post looking to recruit money mules, compared to 15 per cent of people of all ages.

One in 10 Brits has been directly approached on social media by a money mule recruiter. Of those nearly one in five (18 per cent) went ahead with an illegal transaction.

Worryingly, a quarter of people (24 per cent) either think there aren’t any punishments or don’t know what the penalties are for being a money mule.

Sales said: “The hashtags used to recruit money mules act as bait and form part of a secret language used to entice people into criminal activity. That’s why it’s so important to expose these hashtags for what they are – a fast track to a criminal record.”

Chris Ainsley, head of fraud strategy at Santander, said: “It’s alarming to see not just how criminals prey on unsuspecting social media users, but how many people are unaware of what a money mule even is. It takes just a few clicks to become embroiled in this type of crime, but the consequences can have a lifelong effect.”

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