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Case Studies

Middle-aged money mules

More middle-aged money mules and businesses are being recruited to launder money, warn the counter-fraud trade body Cifas, and the UK banking sector trade association UK Finance.

Traditionally, criminals seek mostly younger people and students as money mules. However there are now signs that middle aged people are being targeted, as the latest data from the National Fraud Database shows a 34 per cent increase in the number of accounts belonging to 40 to 60 year olds bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity since 2017.

Mule herders – those who recruit money mules – are likely to be targeting this age group on the belief that larger transactions typically made by this age group may be less likely to appear suspicious. Criminals are changing tack to trick unwitting mules into taking part. This includes placing fake job adverts on recruitment websites and social media platforms, to gather applicants’ bank details by claiming they are required for wages to be paid into. In most cases, funds are then forwarded to the account and the unwitting mule is asked to transfer the money to a different account.

More business accounts are bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity, also. Last year saw a 26pc increase in the number of business accounts involved compared to the previous year. In line with the recruitment of middle-aged mules, criminals may perceive the movement of large sums in these business accounts as appearing to be less suspicious.

Furthermore, Cifas and UK Finance members found criminals advertising on social media and dark-web forums seeking those who had business accounts. To entice account holders, criminals often include screenshots of successful fraudulent Bounce Back Loan payments in the advert.

Cifas and UK Finance are reminding people of all ages that money muling is illegal. Often, people are unaware that allowing their bank account to be used in this way is an offence. The consequences could include a criminal record, having their bank account closed and difficulty opening one elsewhere, and trouble obtaining mobile phone contracts or accessing credit. People who become money mules are often not aware that the cash they are laundering is often stolen from victims of fraud, as well as used to facilitate other crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

Mike Haley, Chief Executive of Cifas, said: ‘Criminals have been upping their game to recruit money mules and abuse their accounts. There is no doubt they have been looking to use different account holders and try different techniques to find out which transactions are the least likely to be detected and can launder the most funds.

‘However, banks and other institutions are collaborating to move quickly on this issue. In 2020, Cifas members shared over 31,000 alerts to warn other banks that their customer’s account had been identified as taking part in fraudulent conduct. It’s through such reciprocal data sharing that we’ll see the greatest impact in taking the fight to the fraudsters.’

And Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: ‘Criminals cruelly prey on those struggling to find work, by using fake job adverts online to recruit people as money mules.

‘We would urge everyone to remain cautious about any offers of quick and easy money and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

‘At the same time, online platforms must take swift action to detect and take down content being used to promote money muling activity. Organised criminal gangs use money mules to launder the profits of their devastating crimes, including fraud, drugs smuggling and people trafficking. We all have a duty to stop them.’


On the online recruitment scams used to trick unwitting mules, Keith Rosser, Chair of JobsAware, said: ‘The emergence of middle-aged money mules shows how the pandemic has made it much easier for fraudsters to target people of all ages online. People of all ages have become increasingly reliant on technology because of Covid, and those in their 40s and 50s are no exception.

‘We are pleased to see relevant organisations coming together to tackle this widespread issue. If jobseekers or those online see something that doesn’t look quite right, get in touch with JobsAware so that we can report the issue to the right people.’

And offering advice to consumers, Jon Walters of Citizens Advice said: ‘Your bank account is just that – yours. So if someone is asking you to transfer money in and out, no matter how they dress it up or how reassuring they may seem, protect yourself by saying ‘no’. You don’t need to deal with this on your own. Our advisers at the Citizens Advice Scams Action service can give you one-to-one help via the phone, email or web chat.’


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