Money mules are ordinary people, often teenagers and hard-up students, who are used by criminals for money laundering. The money mules transfer funds paid into their bank account to another account in exchange for a cut of the money. If caught, those once-ordinary individuals now have a criminal record with a potential prison sentence. That affects their entire future lives.
The victims may either be tempted by a cash inducement or threatened with harm if they don’t comply.
The fact that so many young people are caught up in this criminal activity is raising alarm bells. The fact is that most simply don’t realise what’s at stake. There is not enough public awareness.
Why do criminals need to use money mules?
Cybercrime such as phishing, credit card payments fraud, ransomware or malware attack, online shopping fraud, and the like nets criminal money that must be quickly made to disappear.
That means criminals need to get it out of the country. By using multiple money mules, they can lodge relatively small amounts in a large number of personal bank accounts. Then the account owners transfer the funds to offshore bank accounts controlled by the criminals. Or the account owner has given the criminals access to the bank account to do with as they please.
Europol reckons that 90% of this type of piggybanking on other people’s bank accounts is to hide the results of cybercrime. It’s often used where hackers manage to obtain a victim’s bank details and siphon funds out of it. The destination is a money mule bank account. Unfortunately for the money mule, that leaves a very visible trail straight to their door.
Criminals find it so easy to recruit money mules
Criminal organisers called mule herders get paid to recruit money mules. They often use social media, spam email and the Internet posing as employers to advertise fake jobs or “easy money” opportunities. But they could also look for a “Sales Representative” or use dating sites to build a relationship with the victim.
European Money Mule Action (EMMA) strives to act and to educate
This is an initiative operated by about 35 countries in Europe and elsewhere. It has dual aims – taking action to prevent this crime and also educating the public.
The main message is not to permit your bank account to be used by anybody to transfer stolen money. You would be engaging in illegal activity by assisting in money laundering. That carries severe legal consequences and possibly a 14-year prison sentence.
What to do about helping to prevent this crime
We need more publicity and education about what to watch out for and avoid. The old saying was never so appropriate – if it seems too good to be true then it usually is.
Also, vulnerable groups like young people and those who are hard up need to know that it can have harsh and log lasting consequences. Opening a bank account will be very difficult and something as basic as getting a car loan or mortgage may well be impossible.
Read these practical guidelines from Europol – Money Muling awareness campaign #DontBeAMule
Australian Government – Australian Institute of Criminology (Nov 2017). Money mules. Retrieved from https://aic.gov.au/publications/htcb/htcb016
Dodd, V. (Nov 2017). Record increase in ‘money mule’ cases among UK young people. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/nov/27/rmoney-mule-uk-young-people-bank-accounts
European Union Judicial Cooperation Unit (Dec 2018). Over 1500 money mules identified in worldwide money laundering sting. EUROJUST. Retrieved from http://www.eurojust.europa.eu/press/PressReleases/Pages/2018/2018-12-04.aspx
Europol. Money Muling – Public awareness and prevention. Retrieved from https://www.europol.europa.eu/activities-services/public-awareness-and-prevention-guides/money-muling
Kelly, A. (Feb 2018). How Cybercriminals Use Money Mule Accounts to Profit From Online Fraud. Security Intelligence. Retrieved from https://securityintelligence.com/how-cybercriminals-use-money-mule-accounts-to-profit-from-online-fraud/