What if you were told you could make serious money in a matter of seconds? Picture this: you’re offered hundreds, if not thousands of pounds for minimum effort. It’s a dream come true. You could spend it on that holiday abroad you’ve been dreaming about. You could finally buy the car you have had your eye on. Perhaps it’s even the last bit of cash you needed to put down the deposit on your dream home.
All you have to do is give your bank details to someone in order for them to deposit a large sum of money into your account. After this, you simply have to transfer it to another account, and you get a percentage in return for the transaction. Sounds like easy money, right?
Wrong. It may appear to be a way to get rich quick, but this would make you a money mule. Using a money mule is a form of money laundering and could land you in serious trouble. By using you as the middleman, it makes criminals harder to trace, leaving you in the firing line for prosecution. It is a serious crime, and it can land you with a criminal record.
- Who can be targeted as a money mule?
- What are the repercussions of being a money mule?
- How can you protect yourself and others?
Fraudsters are targeting young people in particular. Those under 25 are six times more likely to fall victim. This is due to the use of social media as a method of recruiting money mules. Youngsters are also less likely to realise what they are doing is illegal.
Action Fraud suggest there were almost 18,000 cases of money muling activity involving 21-30 year olds in 2020, a 5% increase on 2019. This demographic accounts for 42% of all money muling activity.
Criminals have used the pandemic to persuade people to do their dirty work. After a rise in unemployment, redundancies and people on furlough, people are more tempted by the promise of quick cash – not just young people. Katy Worobec, managing director at UK Finance said, “Criminals are cruelly preying on ‘Generation Covid’ and those struggling to find work at this difficult time, using fake job adverts to recruit people as money mules”.
Social media posts showing wads of bank notes, captioned with lines such as “message me to earn £5,000 today!” are also being used to draw people in. Posts promising students money to help them fund university, and guarantees of zero consequences are also doing rounds on the internet.
You may also receive text messages and emails suggesting you are owed a tax refund. Fake debt relief companies are also rife. They promise to wipe debts if you simply move money from one bank account to another. Romance scams are another common way of trapping you to become a money mule.
But don’t be fooled, it’s not just young people being targeted. A poll by Barclays recently found seven in 10 people were not aware of the consequences of money muling. It’s important to be aware to ensure you aren’t fooled into being complicit in a crime, whatever your age.
If you are found guilty of being complicit in money laundering by being a mule, you could face up to 14 years in prison – even if you’re an unsuspecting victim. It can also result in your bank account being closed, and you may have issues getting credit in the future. If you are unable to access credit, you may run into problems buying or renting a home or even getting a mobile phone contract.
This Is Money recently told of three students who were sentenced to 38 months in prison in 2019 after helping to launder almost £65,000 taken from a woman in her eighties via an online scam.
If you are looking to go to university in the future, it will also impact your chances of receiving a student loan.
In the digital age, it is imperative to know what to do if you think you are being targeted or have fallen victim. It is increasingly important to know what to look out for to avoid falling for a money mule scam.
Here are our top tips:
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you are being offered a dream-come-true amount of money, with promises that there is ‘no catch’, you may be being lured into becoming a money mule.
- Do not engage with any adverts or social media posts offering large sums of money. Ignore it and report them.
- If you think you may have already fallen victim, report it to your bank directly. You can also report the incident to Action Fraud and are encouraged to contact Crimestoppers.
- If you see a job advert offering large sums of money for minimal effort, report them to the job board.
- If you received a job offer, research the company and make sure all contact details are genuine.
- Do not give your bank account details to anyone you do not know or trust.
- If you receive a text or email claiming to be your bank, HMRC or another organisation suggesting you are owed money, call the organisation directly. Do not click on any links within them or call any of the phone numbers provided.