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Latest fraud statistics reveal middle-aged mules targeted by online money laundering gangs

3 June 2021
  • Warning issued as criminals shift focus in their money mule recruitment strategies
  • Cifas data reveals the number of 40–60 year olds involved in activity bearing the hallmarks of money muling up by over a third over last four years
  • Criminals increasingly targeting business owners to abuse company accounts
  • Cash laundered by money mules used to facilitate serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking and people smuggling

Cifas and UK Finance are warning of the increasing number of middle-aged money mules and businesses being recruited to launder money.

Traditionally, criminals have focussed on recruiting mostly younger people and students as money mules. However there are now signs that middle aged people are being targeted, with the latest data from the National Fraud Database revealing a 34% increase in the number of accounts belonging to 40–60 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.

Research also shows that criminals are changing tack to trick unwitting mules into taking part. This includes placing fake job adverts on recruitment websites and social media platforms designed 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.

Data from the National Fraud Database also revealed a rise in the number of business accounts bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity. In 2020, there was a 26% 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, intelligence from Cifas and UK Finance members discovered 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 and can have serious consequences. Often, people are unaware that allowing their bank account to be used in this way is an offence which will have long-term consequences when they are caught. This could include a criminal record, having their bank account closed and difficulty opening one elsewhere, as well as trouble obtaining mobile phone contracts or accessing credit in future. People who become money mules are often not aware that the cash they are laundering is often stolen from innocent victims of fraud, as well as used to facilitate serious 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.’

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.’

Commenting 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.’

Offering advice to consumers worried about being tricked into taking part in this illegal activity, 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.’

Notes to editors

Number of accounts bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity

Age 2017 2020 Change
41-50 2,948 3,917 33%
51-60 1,242 1,708 38%
Total 4,190 5,625 34%

 

UK Finance and Cifas are urging the public to stay safe by following the advice of the Don’t Be Fooled campaign:

  • Research any potential employer by conducting your own background checks and making sure their contact details are genuine.
  • Don’t respond to adverts offering large sums of money for minimal effort.
  • Be wary of job ads that are written in poor English with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
  • Don’t give your bank account details to anyone unless you know and trust them.

About Cifas

Cifas is the UK’s fraud prevention service. We lead the fight against fraud by sharing data, intelligence and learning. The organisations that collaborate with us are drawn from all sectors, operating in both the public and private sectors working together to stop fraud. A full list of our members can be found on our website.

Organisations that work with Cifas, contribute to and benefit from the UK’s largest databases of fraud risk data and intelligence. We are committed to the principle of collaboration, which connects and drives our community, and enables the sharing of:

Data
We enable the secure sharing of high quality, trusted data to fight fraud. Our databases are the most comprehensive and diverse sources of fraud risk data in the UK.

Intelligence
We provide research and dynamic intelligence that influences the threat picture and strengthens the response against fraud.

Learning
We are a leading provider of accredited education and trusted training.

About UK Finance

UK Finance is the collective voice for the banking and finance industry. Representing more than 250 firms across the industry, we act to enhance competitiveness, support customers and facilitate innovation.

For more information:

Cifas Press Team - press@cifas.org.uk / 0203 004 3644

UK Finance Press Team - press@ukfinance.org.uk / 020 7416 6750

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Posted by: Cifas Press Team
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