STUDENTS in schools and colleges across Yorkshire are being warned not to be duped into becoming ‘money mules’ for organised crime gangs.
In the last three years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of 14 to 18-year-olds innocently handing over their bank details to criminals, who then use the account to launder money gained from drug dealing and other illegal activity.
According to figures from the fraud prevention organisation Cifas, in 2018, there were 5,819 cases of young people using their bank accounts for ‘money muling’ in the UK, a rise of 20 per cent on 2017 (4,849 cases) and a 73 per cent increase since 2016 (3,360 cases).
In an effort to stem the rise, UK Finance and Cifas are partnering with schools, colleges and police forces to promote the Don’t Be Fooled awareness campaign.
Andy Foster, fraud protect officer at South Yorkshire Police, said: “Often it begins with an advertisement circulated online, the kind which says ‘Do you want to earn hundreds of pounds a week for just a few hours’ work?’
“They are styled to look as though they are offering genuine employment, but all they want is an individual’s bank details and as soon as they have they have unwittingly become part of organised crime.”
Sophisticated technology means banks are alert to the problem and accounts are shut down as soon as they notice unusually large amounts of money being transferred. However, for the ‘money mules’ that is often just the start of the problem.
Mr Foster added: “Young people are often unaware that acting as a money mule is illegal. Even if they didn’t realise they were doing anything wrong it doesn’t matter and there are serious long-term consequences.
“Once you have had your bank account shut down it is very difficult to open another one for the next six years and it will also have a major impact on your credit rating.
“If you are offered payment to receive money into your bank account and then to transfer it to another account and you agree to do this, then you are a money mule. Money mules are effectively money launderers and that crime carries a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment.”
As part of the campaign, parents and guardians are also being made aware of the risks of their children becoming a money mule.
Mr Foster added: “The run-up to Christmas, when university students in particular may be running short of cash, is the perfect time for these fraudsters to prey on the vulnerable.
“Parents should stress to their child the importance of never handing over their bank details to anyone they don’t know and trust and they need to warn them about unsolicited offers of easy money – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Unfortunately, even having been warned some young people will fall victim to these scams and there are some often quite visible signs to look for.
“If your child is suddenly buying expensive new clothes or gadgets with very little explanation as to how they got the money it’s time to start asking questions. They may also become more secretive, withdrawn or appear stressed.
“Like all fraud, the consequences can be devastating and these victims will still be suffering the effects long after the fraudsters have moved on.”