Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.
Who doesn’t love the idea of earning money online quickly and without any effort?
Sadly, in most cases, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
A recent report by the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (Cifas) reveals a concerning rise in the number of 14–18-year olds who are being targeted to serve as money mules for criminals.
Their method for attracting these youngsters’ attention? Social media, of course!
Using tantalising hashtags like #EasyMoney and #RealMoneyTransfers, they manage to reel their unsuspecting bait in without much of a battle.
Let’s delve a bit deeper:
Firstly, it might be useful to unpack the term ‘money mule’ before we go any further.
Now, we’ve all heard about drug mules and the dangers that go along with that. Ever felt paranoid about someone slipping something into your backpack without noticing while travelling? Oh, okay, maybe that’s just me.
The point is, money mules perform a similar task, serving as the dispensable go-between for criminal activity.
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 new research released by Santander, 70% of people are unaware of what a money mule actually is, underlining just how vulnerable the majority of people are to money mule recruiters.
In the last year alone, the number of money mules have increased by 26% – of which 49% are under 25-years-old.
Santander commissioned reformed scam artist Tony Sales to investigate how criminals use hashtags to lure people into becoming money mules.
In the process of his investigation, Sales identified ten hashtags that are commonly associated with money mule recruitment.
“The hashtags used to recruit money mules act as bait and form part of a secret language used to entice people into criminal activity,” said Sales. “That’s why it’s so important to expose these hashtags for what they are – a fast track to a criminal record.”
When you’re hard up for cash, a ‘make-money-fast’ scam could seem extremely enticing. Especially when it involves instant rewards and almost no work to get it.
However much a money mule may try to convince themselves that they won’t get caught, it’s pretty risky business that comes with very real consequences.
Apart from resulting in a criminal record, you could also end up going to prison for up to 14 years!
According to Sales’ research, a quarter of the people (24%) surveyed either think there aren’t any punishments or don’t know what the penalties are for being a money mule.
So, next time a hashtag entices you with promises of quick money, give it a hard pass!
Besides, there are loads of other ways to make money online without too much effort at all.
Unfortunately, cyberspace has become a bit of a cesspit for fraudsters and even the savviest internet-users may be caught off-guard at times.
Here are few dangers to be aware of courtesy of Cifas:
Don’t get manipulated into revealing passwords or other login details in response to emails, texts, direct messages, posts or phone calls. Many fake requests claim to be from trusted sources such as student loan providers, banks, HMRC or the police, or even companies like Apple. Responding to phishing emails and calls can lead to fraud, identity theft, or both.
Do thorough checks on potential lets before parting with any money. Check out the accommodation in person, and that the landlord really is the landlord.
Don’t pay someone you don’t know by bank transfer, such as for goods, travel, gig/festival tickets or any kind of services. If it’s a fraud, there’s very little chance of getting your money refunded.
Do be careful with online dating by not sending any money or bank account details in response to hard luck stories. Do reverse image searches to make sure you’re not being catfished. And avoid sending or sharing intimate images or video … you never know if they’re going to be used for extortion if they fall into the wrong hands.
Do make sure that student Wi-Fi is secure, by talking to the IT provider. Avoid using public hotspots when you’re doing anything confidential, as it could be either unsecure or bogus.
There is, of course, no one better to help you navigate the dodgy hashtags and other online pitfalls than a former fraudster.
Here are Sales’ top tips to avoid becoming a money mule:
Glam can be a scam: Be wary of accounts belonging to apparently glitzy users, offering an equally glamorous lifestyle at just a drop of a hat. Don’t be fooled; life behind bars is anything but glam.
Emotional extortion: Fraudsters prey on your emotions, luring you in with everything from the promise of money to help with a family emergency, to a means to fund your latest trainer obsession. Be on your guard. It’s not charity, it’s just another way to scam you.
Be a snitch: Spotted a dubious hashtag on social media? Report it to the site owner who will be able to shut down the hashtag and block the accounts that were using it to recruit.
Verify the vacancy: Always take a look at the company’s website to ensure they exist. Fake job adverts advertising ‘mystery shoppers’ or ‘payment processing agents’, are just more ways that money launderers get hold of your bank details.
Scammer under the hammer: Fraudsters looking for money mules also operate on auction-style websites such as eBay, targeting victims by claiming they have paid twice for an item by accident and requesting that the money is transferred into a different bank account. No mistake, just another ploy to get hold of your bank details.
Daylight robbery: Fraudsters don’t only prey online under the auspices of anonymous social media handles. They also recruit in person, such as waiting outside school gates offering children the promise of free food or goods in exchange for bank details. Stay alert and report any suspicions you might have.