Concerns are growing over the number of young people being recruited to launder dirty cash as figures from one of the UK’s largest banks revealed three in 10 ‘money mules’ reported last year were under 21.
Barclays said that between 2016 and 2018 the number of those under 21 who were enlisted as money mules rose by 97 per cent to just over 6,000 people.
Half of those of those were university students.
Money mules are often recruited by criminals with promises of making easy money in return for simply accepting deposits into their bank account and then forwarding it on.
Those who do agree to help out in this way are usually unaware that they are laundering money or that it is a criminal offence, and sometimes a serious one. It can leave your bank account frozen for six years, your credit report in tatters and can even result in a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Separate polling carried out by the bank found that more than seven in 10 university students surveyed were not aware of the potential consequences if they were caught.
Ever since the latest report by fraud reporting service Cifas found that the number of reported money mules rose 26 per cent in 2018 to 40,139, nearly half of whom were under 25, banks have taken a particular interest in alerting young people to the crime.
Santander in July partnered with the cast of BBC mockumentary ‘People Just Do Nothing’ to produce a series of fraud adverts aimed at younger people, one of which covered the issue of money mules and told people never to let anyone use their bank account to transfer money.
University students short of money and young people who may not have any idea that what they are getting into are sometimes easy targets for criminals.
Those recruiting often target younger people on social media or messaging apps like Whatsapp with promises of easy money in return for allowing them to deposit money in their bank account.
Cifas’ February 2019 ‘Fraudscape’ report said: ‘On many of these pages there will be images or videos designed to lure in potential mules by showing individuals flashing lots of cash, high-end trainers or other luxury items.’
While it didn’t focus specifically on younger people, recent research from Santander found 27 per cent of those surveyed who were under-25 said they would click on social media posts like this, and almost a quarter said they had.
Those figures are hardly surprising, given how 70 per cent of the respondents told the bank they had no idea what a money mule actually is.
Barclays‘ head of digital safety Ross Martin said of the figures released by the bank: ‘We know criminal gangs are ruthlessly targeting cash-strapped students on campuses across the UK, with the aim of tricking them into laundering their dirty money.
‘Worryingly, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of student money mules who unwittingly allow criminals to access their bank accounts, unaware that the money flowing in and out is often connected to serious crime.
‘It is vital that all students are aware of the risks and can spot the warning signs when they think they are in danger.
‘Providing young people with the necessary tools and knowledge can help prevent criminals from taking advantage of students in vulnerable financial situations.’