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Don’t be fooled with money mules

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Impersonation scams are on the rise. Fraudsters pose as an organisation or a trusted individual, such as a bank, utilities or telephone company, and pressure the victim to transfer their money. But where does the cash go?

Transferring the money straight into the fraudster’s account would lead the police to their door and the money needs to be laundered, so the criminal uses a third-party bank account, recruited from unsuspecting ‘money mules’. 

Money mules are recruited from young people who are cash poor and students are a common target. The student hands over their account in exchange for a small payment but this can be one of the most damaging and life changing activities.

As children or grandchildren begin their university lives, it’s important they are aware of financial safety and how easily criminals can impersonate and manipulate those into helping with illegal financial activity.

What is a money muling?

Money muling is a form of money laundering; which is a process of concealing where the money made from criminal activity came from. For criminals to move their money as discreetly and smoothly as possible they recruit money mules.

If someone is offering you an easy way to make money and claiming they can’t use their own bank account and asking to use yours, you may be talking to a ‘mule herder’.

Money mule: Someone who lets criminals use their bank account for transferring money. In most cases the money mule isn’t aware of what’s really happening and have been tricked into this activity because of an offer of payment or reward.

Mule herder: A mule herder hires money mules. A mule herder may approach you online through a messaging app or even in person.

How does money muling work?

Mule herders often set up fake profiles on social media and post advertisements of easy and quick ways to make money. If you like or interact with their post online they can lure you in by using manipulative behaviours. The criminal will often use a cover story and add a sense of urgency to pressure the mule into agreeing to the task.

Money mules are typically hired because they are attracted to a job advert. The mule herder will transfer money to them and ask the mule to pass the funds on or withdraw them to give to somebody else.

Is it a crime to be a money mule?

Partaking and handling money that originated from illegal activity is a crime, even if you didn’t realise you were doing it.

The aftermath of being caught as a money mule is extremely detrimental and can result in imprisonment for up to 14 years. If you are caught as a money mule, opening a bank account and getting credit will be difficult and you will have a criminal record.

How to protect yourself from a mule herder

  • Stay vigilant and research all job offers. Stick to well-known job vacancy sites and avoid jobs that are only advertised on social media
  • Don’t accept money into your bank account if you don’t know where it’s come from
  • Don’t share your bank or personal details with somebody you don’t know

How to help young people avoid being a money mule

  • Talk to them about how to keep their bank account safe and educate them on how to manage their finances
  • Speak to them about online scamming and what to look out for
  • If they started a new job, ask questions about it or if they have extra money ask where it’s come from
  • If they’ve become more secretive about their money and where it’s come from, speak to them about it

UK Finance and Cifas have started a partnership called ‘Don’t be Fooled’ to raise awareness and support for students and young people to avoid being tricked into being a money mule. For more information and support, visit their website.

If you feel you or a relative is being tricked into money muling, stop speaking to them, block their account, report them and contact Crimestoppers.

Paragon Bank PLC is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Registered in England number 05390593. Registered office 51 Homer Road, Solihull, West Midlands B91 3QJ. Paragon Bank PLC is registered on the Financial Services Register under the firm reference number 604551