WANTED: Students. Earn £500 a day. No experience required.
Interested? How about…
Part-time payments officer required for European expansion of reputable company. Work from home. Earn up to £1000 a week, 1 or 2 hours work.
It’s very likely that you’ve seen similar adverts to the examples above, online, in print or even attached to a local lamppost. They sound like amazing opportunities, don’t they? Convenient employment, flexible to your lifestyle, providing some welcome additional cash, perhaps towards tuition, bills or just a bit extra in the pocket for the weekend - sign me up!
But before you do sign up, have a think. Is this too good to be true?
In this latest edition of his ‘all things financial crime’ series, Starling’s Financial Crime Specialist Laurie Hood gives an insight into the world of Money Mules, also known as Money Muling.
What exactly is a Mule?
If you haven’t heard of Mules and you decide to search the above question on the internet, the chances are you’ll stumble upon a detailed definition from the fantastic folks over at The Donkey Sanctuary.
In this blog I am specifically looking at Money Mules – not to be confused with our furry friends.
The simplest definition of a Money Mule is someone who willingly withdraws illegitimately obtained money or transfers it between accounts, whilst taking a small percentage for their own fee.
Or, perhaps more simply – money laundering.
Money Muling carries very serious consequences, including up to fourteen years imprisonment - which may come as a shock to an unwitting individual, as well as having your bank account closed. This could then lead to potential difficulties in future opening bank accounts, getting a job, obtaining a mobile phone contract or student loan and applying for credit in the future.
Criminals enlist mules to assist in the distribution of funds obtained through criminal activities, such as fraud, drug dealing, account takeovers and phishing for example. The criminals behind the Mule may also use these funds for serious organised crime, such as human trafficking or terrorism.
By becoming a Money Mule, you could be enabling such crime.
Criminals will target anyone to become a Mule, to distance themselves from the risk of being caught. However, young people and students are often considered vulnerable to fraudsters and are therefore primary targets.
CIFAS, a UK fraud prevention service, published data in November 2017 which showed a 75% increase in the misuse of bank accounts by 18 to 24 year olds in the first nine months of the year (compared to the previous year), which translates into a staggering 8,652 reported cases between January and September 2017.
If you’re heading off, or returning to University, it’s worth reading on to understand how you can protect yourself, so you don’t fall victim to the unscrupulous fraudsters who wish to use your bank account for criminal activity.
It’s important to understand that an approach could occur by any means, from speculative / vague job profiles to direct contact over social media, or perhaps a total stranger approaching you in the street (or pub!). Sometimes, fraudsters will portray themselves as reputable organisations, in order to convince you that what they are doing or proposing is entirely legitimate and legal - it’s probably not!
Ultimately, if you’re required to receive money into your bank account, then withdraw or transfer a percentage of the received funds (possibly overseas) then you are a Money Mule.
How can I protect myself?
Research any potential employer
If you’ve had a job offer, make sure you do background research on the company.
If you’re under the impression that the offer is from a well-known company, have you had any communication via direct channels, perhaps a contract of employment or other reliable means of verification (headed paper, company email?). Alarm bells should ring if you’re corresponding with a generic email address from a popular service provider. Equally, you should be aware of potential spelling errors, or offers of employment from anonymous individuals overseas.
You should not be expected to receive and distribute funds via your personal bank account for any role, any request for you to do so should heighten your suspicions.
Don’t respond to adverts offering large sums of money, for minimal input
Those of you who are regular readers of my blogs will be familiar with ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ – sound advice that has been around for generations, but it’s more relevant than ever here.
Don’t fall into a trap with the promise of quick money for little effort. It doesn’t happen – and if it does, it’s highly likely that it isn’t above board.
If someone has contacted you directly about a role, make sure you understand what you’re signing-up for.
Don’t allow anyone to access your bank account
Nothing good can come of giving your bank details to a stranger. Firstly it could be a breach of your terms and conditions, which may result in your account being closed permanently.
But you should also remember that the account is in your name - granting a third party access to your account could bring serious consequences if it is used for criminal purposes.
Final note from me
It’s important for everybody to understand just how serious Money Muling is, to prevent them falling victim to criminals, potentially resulting in life-changing consequences.
Banks have extremely sophisticated monitoring in-place to detect suspect activity – not realising that you are laundering the proceeds of crime, or acting as a Money Mule is not going to be accepted as an excuse.
If you’re keen to learn more about Money Mules and protect yourself, or those around you - be sure to check-out the Don't Be Fooled campaign, launched by CIFAS and Financial Fraud Action UK.