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Warning sounded on recruitment ads for money mules

Warning sounded on recruitment ads for money mules
Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Criminals are targeting young people with fake job adverts online in a bid to recruit money mules, UK Finance and fraud prevention service Cifas have warned.

In a joint warning, the organisations said criminals were targeting young people whose job prospects had been impacted by the pandemic, by looking to recruit money mules to launder cash used to facilitate terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling.

Figures from Cifas show there were 17,157 cases of suspected money muling activity involving 21-30 year olds in 2020, a five per cent increase on the previous year, though overall numbers are down.

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The age group accounted for 42 per cent of money mule activity in 2020, up from 38 per cent three years ago.

Number of cases bearing the 'hallmarks of money muling'

AGE

2017

2019

2020

<21

8,475

10,030

8,791

21 - 30

12,149

16,365

17,157

31-40

6,571

9,248

8,349

41-50

2,948

4,681

3,917

51-60

1,242

2,050

1,708

61+

412

536

431

Sum

31,797

42,900

40,353

Source: Cifas

According to UK Finance and Cifas, intelligence suggested criminals were exploiting people’s financial difficulties by using social media platforms, recruitment websites and phishing emails (used by fraudsters in an attempt to access valuable personal details) to approach them with offers of ‘easy cash’.

They warned: “They will use the promise of earning money quickly to convince individuals to provide their bank details, before asking them to transfer the funds received to another account and keep some of the cash for themselves, making them a money mule.”

UK Finance and Cifas explained criminals typically post adverts on legitimate recruitment websites or social media using terms such as ‘money transfer agents’ or ‘local processors’ to recruit money mules.

The organisations said people were often unaware that allowing their bank accounts to be used for money muling was a crime, with long-term consequences such as a criminal record and difficulty accessing credit in future.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, commented: “Criminals are cruelly preying on ‘Generation Covid’ and those struggling to find work at this difficult time, 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.”

Mike Haley, chief executive officer of Cifas, added: “We’re now seeing more variations of this type of [money muling] activity including mules being asked to buy cryptocurrencies or gift cards to mask the stolen funds, making it even more difficult for organisations to trace this money and return it to victims.”

chloe.cheung@ft.com

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