Fraudsters and criminals keen to conceal and launder the proceeds of crime are increasingly turning to money mules to facilitate their illicit activities.
A money mule is a person who receives funds of unknown origin into their bank account and transfers them to another pre-determined account in return for a small commission. In some cases mules allow their bank account to be controlled by another individual to carry out the transactions. While many mules are fully complicit in the activity and, at least somewhat, aware of the illegality of their actions, sadly many others are duped into providing these money transfer services through social engineering schemes such as romance scams, whereby fraudsters cruelly manipulate them by playing on their vulnerabilities.
Complicit or not, it’s a form of money laundering and your involvement can land you a maximum jail term of 12 years. Cifas research revealed that in 2019 over 32,000 fraud instances bore the hallmarks of money muling.
So, why do fraudsters need their mules? Quite simply, they’re keen to remove themselves as much as possible from the criminal act itself – whether fraud or laundering money. Using mules means they’re less likely to be implicated and, due to the speed with which the money can be transferred from one account to the next, it’s very easy to make large sums of money disappear very quickly.
Anti-fraud measures implemented in the past few years have been very successful in preventing criminals opening bogus accounts for laundering purposes, so criminals have vastly upped their recruitment of money mules to facilitate the redistribution of illicitly obtained funds.
A recent Barclays report finding that under-21s being recruited as money mules has more than tripled between 2016 and 2019. Fraudsters leverage social media and messaging services to lure young people – such as cash-strapped students – into laundering dirty cash with fake job adverts offering easy money. Current lockdown restrictions resulting from the global pandemic are likely to be compounding this however, with millions on furlough or losing their incomes, many more will be tempted by ‘too good to be true offers of making quick cash, easily, at home.