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Criminals are targeting young people through Snapchat and Instagram promising that they can make hundreds of pounds in minutes by becoming a money mule.  

Money mules - what are they and could you fall victim?

Criminals are targeting young people through Snapchat and Instagram promising that they can make hundreds of pounds in minutes by becoming a money mule.  

Although it might appear to be a stress-free get rich quick scheme, acting as a money mule is illegal and could be funding serious crime, and make it hard for you to access credit in the future.

Why are people looking for money mules?

Using a money mule is a form of money laundering. It is one of the ways criminals can use to make their profits more difficult to trace. Usually it works by a money mule agreeing to share their bank details so that cash can be deposited into their account for them to follow instructions to send it into another bank account. Fraudsters often target people who don’t have a history of criminal activity to make these transactions seem less suspicious to banks. You won’t know where the money is coming from, or where it’s going, but it could be used to fund drugs, child trafficking or even terrorism.

Who is at risk?

According to Sky News, under 25s are six times more likely to fall victim to criminals using social media platforms than over 50s. In a BBC article “Holly” admits to being approached to become a money mule through Instagram and Snapchat when she was only 17. She says that acting as a money mule had become so normalised in her circle that she forgot that it was even illegal.

In 2017 UK banks identified 8,500 money mule accounts owned by people under the age of 21- some belonging to teenagers as young as 14, according to Cifas. Young people are the perfect target for fraudsters, as their accounts are likely to be “clean” without a history of criminal activity, and they might not understand the potential repercussions of taking part in a scam like this.

One victim who was approached to become a money mule at only 15 said “I had nothing in my bank account, I figured I really had nothing to lose. They couldn't steal any of my money - I had none.” However, after her money mule transaction was noticed by her bank her account was closed down, she didn’t see any of the money and she was left without a debit card for months.

What do the scammers promise?

To get people to agree to become money mules, fraudsters might lure you in with a promise of easy money for little to no effort.

Sometimes scammers use a dodgy “make money from your own home” job listing to advertise becoming a money mule. What potential money mules won’t hear, is how easy it is for a transaction like that to be held by your bank, and the potential consequences of being caught attempting to launder money.

How do you get caught?

Your bank is able to put a hold on your account if they notice anything unusual taking place, which is what happened to Holly when she tried to complete her money mule transaction. She was in a bank branch trying to withdraw the scammer’s money when the staff at the bank asked her for more details about the company who deposited the money into her account.

When she couldn’t convince bank staff that it was a legitimate transaction she had to leave the bank empty-handed. By targeting young people to act as money mules, criminals could be setting themselves up for failure by depositing suspiciously large amounts into accounts that usually don’t have much money in them. Activity like this would automatically be flagged by the bank’s fraud detection systems and a hold will be placed on the account.

What could happen if you get caught?

If you knowingly allow your account details to be used for fraud you could face a sentence of 14 years in prison. However, the Metropolitan Police say they are focussing on finding and prosecuting those who are using money mules rather than those who are conned into becoming one.

There are repercussions to acting as a money mule. Former mules have had their accounts shut down, and have found it difficult to open new ones. When they go to get a new account, loan or credit card the company is able to see a flag attached to their name and it could influence their decision to allow you to access credit or a new account.

What should you do if someone is trying to use you as a money mule?

If you get contacted through social media, then immediately report the account for illegal activity, and hopefully it’ll stop someone else falling victim in the future. You can also report suspected criminal activity to ActionFraud. Whatever you do, don’t share your account details with someone you don’t trust.

Take a look at Financial Fraud Action UK’s Scam Academy to learn more about new types of scams, and how to avoid them.

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