Money mule scams target the “Covid generation”
Criminal gangs are using fake online job advertisements to entice the “Covid Generation” into laundering the proceeds of crime, targeting young people looking for jobs during the pandemic with the promise of easy money.
There were more than 17,000 suspects case of “money mule” involving 21-30 year olds in 2020 – a 5% increase on the previous year, according to data from Cifas, the UK fraud prevention agency, and banking trade body UK Finance.
This age group accounted for 42% of financial mule activity in 2020, up from 38% three years ago, and is among the hardest hit by the economic impact of Covid-19.
“Criminals are cruelly preying on the ‘Covid Generation’ and those struggling to find work during these difficult times by using fake online job postings to recruit people as financial mules,” Katy said. Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance.
In money mule scams, criminals persuade young people to accept transfers to their bank accounts; in some cases, they ask them to open several accounts for this purpose. They are then asked to transfer the money to different accounts, or use it to buy gift cards or cryptocurrencies to hide the stolen funds, but they can keep a share for themselves.
Many are unaware that by doing so they are laundering the proceeds of crime – a criminal offense which can result in a 14 year prison sentence and may prevent them from accessing credit in the future.
Posts on job websites and social media platforms usually promise easy money and instant payments for “money transfer agents” or “local processors”, encouraging people to get in touch using encrypted email services to avoid detection by authorities.
“Online platforms should take prompt action to detect and remove content used to promote money-muling activity,” Worobec said.
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UK Finance said typical posts on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat depict wads of cash or the trappings of a luxury lifestyle, with a request to “DM [send a direct message] for more details”.
A video posted on TikTok called “How to make money in school” had received more than 120,000 likes.
“To me, that’s the really shocking thing,” said Sarah Sinden, head of client education strategy and economic crime at UK Finance. “To me, it quite clearly looks like an attempt to recruit financial mules, but thousands of young people ‘liked’ it and thought it was genuine.”
Cifas and UK Finance launched the Don’t Be Fooled Campaign to educate young people about money smuggling attempts.
“In some cases, once you get in there, it’s potentially very difficult to get out of it,” Sinden says. “Once upon a time the shepherds [criminals who recruit money mules] attracted people, you can’t just decide you don’t want to do it anymore. There will be pressure to launder larger sums of money, or to entice your friends and persuade them to do so.
The numbers of criminal charge because those who are caught acting as mules are very weak, but even if the young people avoid a fine or a criminal record, the banks have the power to freeze and close accounts where fraudulent activity is suspected.
As banks share details of fraud attempts, then it will be difficult to open another account with another bank. UK Finance said it could prevent young people from accessing student loan repayments and cause problems when applying for credit on anything from phone contracts to credit cards and mortgages in the future.