Money mules: how young people are lured into money laundering | Scams
TThe job offer seemed timely. He was offering between £ 500 and £ 1,000 per week to work from home as an agent for cryptocurrency transactions. Lauren *, 21, was heavily in debt after a period of unpaid sick leave and jumped at the chance to rebalance her finances.
“He had been promoted on social media by a few people I had been to school with, so I trusted him,” she says. “It seemed such a coincidence that it happened just when I needed it.”
Lauren contacted the recruiter and was asked to provide photos of her passport along with her address and bank details as identification. “They pretended they were checking me out,” she said. She was asked to open a cryptocurrency account and two savings accounts with her mortgage company, Nationwide, and was told she would receive a commission for processing money transfers.
His suspicions were raised when £ 700 was deposited into his Nationwide checking account and ordered to transfer it to the new cryptocurrency account. “I was asking questions and I was told not to ask questions and I warned that they had all of my sensitive information,” she says. “That’s when my heart sank.”
Lauren had unwittingly signed up to become a money mule, a person who allows her bank account to become a conduit for the proceeds of organized crime. Online fraud has increased by a third since the start of the pandemic with £ 2.3bn lost by consumers and criminal gangs are increasingly targeting cash-strapped youth with clean criminal records for help them move the stolen money undetected by banks and authorities. The number of people under the age of 30 suspected of being money mules climbed nearly 80% last year, according to figures from the Crime Prevention Agency. Cifas – and with the start of academic terms, students are likely to be targeted by attractive job offers on social networks.
The cost to those who sign up can be devastating. While criminal gangs are obscure figures, often based overseas, their mules are easily identifiable. Banks are required to question unusual payments and, if a transaction is found to be suspicious, the account can be frozen and authorities alerted. Customers who have knowingly or unknowingly used their account for money laundering purposes are recorded on the National Fraud Database which prevents them from opening a bank account, requesting a loan or even a mobile phone contract. They also face up to 14 years in prison.
Lauren’s accounts were frozen by Nationwide as soon as the £ 700 was paid. [perpetrators] told me not to confess because I would be arrested, ”she said. “They blamed me so I pretended I didn’t know anything about the transfer when Nationwide questioned me. It was so scary. I didn’t know who these people were, how many there were or if they lived there.
Six weeks of fear followed as Nationwide investigated. Lauren had to make her boyfriend pay her salary until she could open a basic account at another bank. “It was the worst month of my life,” she says. “There wasn’t a time when I didn’t think about it but I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I was so ashamed and alone. I couldn’t eat or sleep. It was difficult to operate. I knew I had to be honest, but I didn’t know when the time was right to speak up or if the gang would come and get me when I did.
Eventually, Lauren broke down and confessed to a Nationwide fraud investigator. “I was shocked to find that they already knew what had happened. They were just waiting for me to be honest, ”she said. “They told me that they were dealing with five or six such cases every day and that if I hadn’t confessed everything, they would have reported me to the police.
Not all money mules are drawn to the promise of making money. Charlie *, an international student from Hong Kong, lost her bank account and solvency during her first term at college after agreeing to serve a new friend.
“She was an Indian national and asked me if her father could send me money for her alimony from India because she had not yet managed to open a bank account in the UK”, she says. “I agreed and a small amount was transferred to my Lloyds account and cashed it at an ATM and handed it over. Two weeks later she asked me if I could help her again and her father transferred £ 1,400 which I also cashed out for her.
Soon after, Charlie’s account was frozen by Lloyds, leaving her unable to pay her living expenses. She discovered that the funds sent by her friend’s father had been stolen from a UK client. Because she had withdrawn them quickly, she could not prove that she had not benefited from the fraud.
It was three years ago. Charlie was able to open a bank account in Hong Kong to finance the rest of his studies. However, when she tried to set up a UK account with Monzo this summer, she found out she was blacklisted. “It turns out that my friend’s father is an accomplished con artist and I had no idea his crimes would affect me years later,” says Charlie, now 22.
Lloyds agreed to remove her from the national database after Guardian Money provided email correspondence showing Charlie had been duped. “When we identify that an account has been used to receive fraudulent funds, we take our obligations very seriously and take appropriate action with the account holder,” said a spokesperson.
“It is really important that account holders, and in particular students, are aware of the consequences of being caught moving fraudulent funds and more advice is available through the student account section of our website. Even unsuspecting mules risk ending up without a bank account and with a damaged credit rating. “
Lauren suffered no financial loss as a result of her approach to money laundering. Nationwide has admitted that she made an honest mistake and is willing to let her open a new account. Emotionally, however, she has paid a high price and is still concerned that the perpetrators will come after her for reporting them. “I still haven’t told any friends or family about it,” she says. “I wouldn’t want someone looking at me and thinking that I was the type of person who would do this knowingly. I had never heard of silver mules until it was too late and it was the mistake of not telling Nationwide what had happened that took over my life.
* Not their real names