Starling financial crime specialist, Paul Schiernecker, explains what a money mule is and how to stay safe.

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Perhaps you’ve seen an ad like this before, on social media or online? Amazing opportunity, convenient employment and quick cash. But stop and have a think. Is this too good to be true?

In fact, fraudsters may ask to use your bank account, promising a percentage of the funds as a form of payment. Moving money through your account on behalf of someone else could mean you are committing financial crime. The consequences of such activity can be very serious.

What is a money mule?

A money mule is someone who transfers criminal proceeds between accounts, while taking a small percentage as their own fee. They may themselves have no knowledge of the wider crime.

Money mules are recruited, sometimes unwittingly, by criminals to transfer illegally obtained money between different bank accounts. This may be referred to as “flipping” the money. Such activity may include a request to transfer money, withdrawing cash or providing your bank card to a third party for a percentage of the funds as “payment”. It’s also possible to act as a money mule by sharing your login details or allowing someone else to take control of your bank account.

How are money mules recruited?

Recruitment can take place through job offers, posted to legitimate job sites. Such “work” can mention opening a bank account specifically to receive funds, or using a different phone and SIM card to undertake any conversations in relation to the work. It’s unlikely to include meeting the employer.

Posts on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram may offer the opportunity to “make money fast”, advertise particular banks they are willing to pay funds to and are likely to target students, young people or other vulnerable groups. Hashtags such as #moneyflipsUK, #EasyMoney and #Flipsanddeets may be included.

CIFAS (not for profit fraud prevention service) figures from March 2021 state there were over 17,000 cases of suspected money muling involving 21-30 year olds in 2020. This age group was 42% of money mule activity in 2020. CIFAS figures from Sept 2021 show that money mule activity for 21-30 year olds went up 76% and for under 21s 78%, from the first half of 2020 versus to the first half of 2021.

Such activity can also include moving money as a “favour” or applying for a “loan” on behalf of someone else. There are even instances where funds are received “in error” and requested to be returned to a different bank account altogether.

By doing this, you could be helping move money linked to serious criminal activity including money laundering or terrorist financing, and are committing a crime.

It’s often only after having moved the money, that individuals discover the devastating personal and financial repercussions.

The consequences can include:

  • Your bank account being closed and struggling to open a new one
  • Being denied various forms of credit (including phone contracts and student loans)
  • A prison sentence of up to fourteen years

How you can protect yourself

  • No legitimate company will ask to use your own bank account to transfer their money. Don’t accept any job offers that ask you to do this
  • Familiarise yourself with the Take Five campaign and stop, challenge and protect your livelihood
  • Practice vigilance around international job offers as it may be harder to track their true intentions
  • Never give your financial details to someone you don’t know and trust and never give anyone access to your bank account
  • If you have children, financial education about money muling raises awareness and encourages them from making the wrong choices. Have those conversations now

What to do if you think you’ve been a money mule

If you think you’ve been approached to be a money mule or have been caught up in a money laundering scheme, the best advice is to stop transferring money immediately and notify your bank.

You should also contact Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, or Police Scotland if you live in Scotland.

To find out more about money muling, further guidance is available from UK Finance.

Article updated 19 January 2022

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