Consumers have been warned that criminals are increasingly using social media to recruit unwitting 'money mules' that help them launder money.
Financial Fraud Action UK's (FFA UK) intelligence unit – the Financial Fraud Bureau – says organised criminals are using the likes of Facebook to recruit members of the public to act as unwitting money launderers.
The 'mules' end up helping criminals launder dirty money earned from drug smuggling, people trafficking and fraud.
The mules are told that they are taking a legitimate job as a 'money transfer agent' and are paid a commission on the value of the funds that pass through their account, little knowing they have committed a crime and assisted criminal gangs to move their funds around the world.
Traditionally, money mules were recruited through job adverts and online postings or directly. While this is still the case, FFA UK says criminals are now also using social media to recruit mules.
"Recent examples have included Facebook posts on closed groups, or messages sent through instant messaging apps such as BBM, which typically encourage people to contact the sender if they hold a particular bank account," the organisation claims.
It says the content of messages changes from person to person. Some ask the reader to become a 'UK representative' or 'agent' of an overseas company seeking to act on their behalf for a period of time, because it will help the business avoid local taxes.
"Others are more brash, posting pictures of piles of cash or stating that people can make money fast if they get in contact, with little or no detail on what the recipient's bank account will be used for," FFA UK said.
But the punishment for being a money mule can be harsh – convicted mules face a prison sentence and will find it impossible to obtain a mortgage or open a bank account in the future.
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Katy Worobec, director of FFA UK, said: "An online posting or job advert which claims you can make easy money and asks for details of your bank account is highly likely to have been posted by criminals trying to recruit money mules. The consequences of letting criminals transfer money through your account are very serious – this is an imprisonable offence, and can bring with it the prospect of losing access to bank accounts and mortgages. Money mules also unwittingly aid the activities of international organised gangs which are involved in some of the most serious forms of criminality.
"It is often students or people who are new to the country that are tricked into becoming money mules, so if you have friends or family who are being asked by a stranger for the use of their bank account, warn them of the dangers immediately."
Here's FFA UK's advice on how to protect yourself against a criminal money laundering gang:
- Be wary of unsolicited emails or approaches over social media promising opportunities to make easy money.
- Verify any company that makes you a job offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in the UK.
- Be wary of job offers from people or companies overseas as it will be harder for you to find out if they really are legitimate.
- Never give your bank account details to anyone unless you know and trust them.
- If you have already disclosed your bank account details or received money into your account and you think it could be a money mule scam, you should contact your bank immediately.