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Watch out for offers to be a ‘money mule’

Jasmine Birtles 30th Apr 2013 No Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

According to Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK) there’s an email scam going round (which we’ve mentioned before) which recruits ordinary members of the public, through illicit job adverts, to money-launder thousands of pounds to criminal gangs abroad – the proceeds of which fund an international trade in drugs, people trafficking and terrorism.

The fake job offers, often made online using titles such as ‘Money Transfer Agent’ or ‘Payment Processing Agent’, turn people into being a so-called ‘Money Mule’. What happens is they ask you to receive money into your bank account and transfer it to another account, keeping a cut for yourself.

In reality, the money received is stolen, often the result of fraud on accounts, and is then laundered to overseas bank accounts. This activity is illegal and carries a number of consequences, including freezing of your bank account, difficulty in opening new accounts in the future (affecting the ability to gain a mortgage, insurance etc) and even a prison sentence of up to ten years.

Research shows that these offers are received by around 15% of adults in the UK – with fraudsters specifically targeting people on low-incomes, such as students, those on benefits and immigrants.

Of those who have received such an offer, a fifth (21%) admitting to having considered accepting the work, and 6% went on to volunteer. Enlarging these figures nationally across those with internet access, this could give rise to 380,000 people becoming unwitting money-launderers.

The figures show that students and new entrants were most likely to consider and accept such an offer: Almost half (41%) of new entrants to the UK who were approached considered the work, with one in five (20%) going on to accept it. Of the students who were approached, almost half (47%) considered and 19% accepted the work.

These figures are reflected across the UK adult population (including those who have not been approached), with almost a tenth (9%) admitting they would consider being a ‘Money Mule’.

Only 15% correctly identified the ten-year maximum custodial sentence available to the courts in prosecuting offenders.

How to spot a criminal money laundering approach and how to protect yourself:

  • Be very cautious of unsolicited emails promising opportunities to make easy money
  • Verify any company that makes you a job offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in the UK
  • Be especially wary of job offers from people or companies overseas as it will be harder for you to find out if they really are legitimate
  • Never give your bank account details to anyone unless you know and trust them

Other signs that could indicate you are being targeted by a money mule scam:

  • Money mule adverts or offers can take a variety of different forms and they may even copy a genuine company’s website and have a similar web address to make the scam seem authentic
  • These adverts will normally state that they are an overseas company seeking ‘UK representatives’ or ‘agents’ to act on their behalf for a period of time, sometimes to avoid high transaction charges or local taxes
  • The nature of the work that the company will claim to be involved in can vary, but the specifics of the job being advertised invariably mean using your bank account to move money
  • The advert may be written in poor English with grammatical and spelling mistakes
  • If you have already disclosed your bank account details or received money into your account and you think it could be a money mule scam, you should contact your bank immediately
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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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