Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
Children as young as nine are being turned into unwitting criminals by crooks using them to launder money in an online money scam operation.
As if cyberbullying, inappropriate content and online predators wasn’t enough for parents to worry about in this high tech age, now there’s a shocking new threat sweeping the nation.
Primary and secondary schools across the UK have been urged to hold assemblies warning youngsters about the dangers of becoming a ‘money mule’.
Anti-fraud agency Cifas and banking trade body UK Finance say criminal gangs have been approaching children through social media and telling them that if they allow money to be paid into their bank account and they cash it out or send it to another account, they will be allowed to keep a cut for themselves.
The ploy, attractive to youngsters wanting some seemingly easy extra pocket money, is actually making them complicit in a crime.
There has been a lot of criticism of our social media platforms, particularly from the government who believe they are making it far too easy for crooks to target children online.
So worried are schools by the threat that in the past two months more than 300 of them have signed up to classes for pupils and teachers to alert them to the risks.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat says tech companies must do more to identify and block mule recruitment.
He is backing the Daily Mail’s Stop the Social Media Scammers Campaign and says: ‘Social media makes advertising cheap and easy, turning apps like Instagram and Snapchat into a rich hunting ground for criminals to identify and recruit money mules.
‘It’s time social media giants stepped up to better protect users’.
It’s perhaps not surprising that with students starting at universities, more than half of them are being approached by criminal organisations, according to a report by crime prevention group, We Fight Fraud.
Teenagers like to think they’re tech savvy – how often has yours rolled their eyes when you type out texts using one finger or can’t use the remote control at warp factor speed? Nine out of ten of them claimed they’d recognise suspicious messages or fraudulent recruitment.
Yet a surprising, and worrying, 66% of university students approached via social media with the lure of earning up to £1,000 a day, responded by sharing their details and engaging with the sender, according to We Fight Fraud’s research.
Nicola Harding, a criminology professor at Lancaster University, who works with We Fight Fraud, invited students to take part in an ‘online focus group’ about fraud, with 30 students signing up.
She and her team then added all the participants on social media platforms and Instagram and Snapchat without them knowing. After a cooling off period, the researchers sent an initial message to each participant asking them to fill in a survey.
It read: ‘Hi!!!Can you do me a massive favour pls. I got a new job and was hoping you could fill out this survey, I get paid everytime someone fills it out and I really need the money tbh(to be honest). You’ll be really helping me out’.
Within 24 hours, 20 of the 30 students had filed ut the survey and engaged with the scammer.
Holly was just 17 when she was approached through Instagram and Snapchat and claimed acting as a money mule was so ‘normal’ in her group of friends that she forgot it was illegal.
Another 15-year-old admitted: ‘I had nothing in my bank account, I figured I had nothing to lose. They couldn’t steal any of my money because I had none’.
But the bank noticed the money mule transaction, her account was closed down and she was left without a debit card for months.
Scammers use dodgy job listings like ‘make money from your own home’ but the penalty if you are caught can be up to 14 years in jail and a damaging criminal record which can affect the rest of a youngster’s life.
It can also affect them getting a new account when the old one shut down, and their ability to get loans or credit.
Although police forces are more keen on catching the gangs behind the scam, they have convicted students in the past.
In 2018, two students, Abdi Mohamed and Nyanjura Biseko, both 22, pleaded guilty after more than £10,000 of fraudulantly obtained money was transferred into their accounts.
Police said at the time that although they might not have known where the money had originated, they knew or suspected it was criminal property.
Mohamed was jailed for six months and Biseko was given a 12-month community order with 80 hours of unpaid work.
If you or your child has been approached, report the account for illegal activity. It’s also worth taking a look at Financial Fraud Action UK’s Scam Academy.
The ‘rinsed’ profits being passed through legitimate accounts can come from anything from fraud, drug dealing or people trafficking.
Earlier this year it was revealed that Birmingham had recorded the highest number of money mule cases of any council area in the country- 3,000 cases between January and September last year.
Cifas warned that the number of 14-18-year-olds misusing their bank accounts has increased by 73 per cent in the past two years.
While teachers are constantly taught about safeguarding, they admit there is little information about financial fraud.
One expert at Lloyds Bank said the most common way a money mule is contacted is on Instagram and then the fraudsters move the conversation to messaging app, WhatsApp.
Typically, the mule will be instructed to move funds from the bank account to a foreign exchange platform where few questions are asked, and then the recruiters collect the cash.
Tell-tale signs that your child might be involved in money muling could be suddenly having extra cash, buying expensive new clothes or top of the range mobiles or gadgets with little explanation as to how they got the money to pay for them.
They might become more secretive or stressed especially if their recruiters are threatening them with violence or potential physical attacks if they don’t continue working for them.
You can report money muling to your local police on 101 or 999 in an emergency, or if you prefer to remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.