Fraudsters are targeting under-25s to become ‘money mules’ using a variety of Instagram hashtags
An increasing number of unsuspecting Brits are being lured into becoming criminals by clicking on to fraudulent hashtags.
Hashtags on social media being used by criminals to recruit people into becoming money mules - a crime which can result in a criminal record and even a prison sentence of up to 14 years, according to Santander Bank.
Money mules are people who allow criminals to use their bank accounts to transfer money associated with illegal activity often with the promise of payment in return.
Santander’s research found that young people are particularly at risk of being targeted by the fraudsters.
In the past year the number of money mules has increased by 26% - with 49% of them under 25-years-old.
Chris Ainsley, head of fraud strategy at Santander, says: “It’s alarming to see not just how criminals prey on unsuspecting social media users, but how many people are unaware of what a money mule even is.
“It takes just a few clicks to become embroiled in this type of crime, but the consequences can have a lifelong effect.”
Santander recruited former fraudster Tony Sales to investigate how scammers are tricking social media users into becoming money mules.
Sales identified 10 hashtags that are commonly associated with money mule recruitment.
Almost a quarter (23%) of people said they would engage with and click on social media posts featuring these types of ‘easy money’ hashtags, with #PayPalFlip being the most tempting of those hashtags identified, rising to 27% for the under-25s.
Mr Sales says: “The hashtags used to recruit money mules act as bait and form part of a secret language used to entice people into criminal activity. That’s why it’s so important to expose these hashtags for what they are – a fast track to a criminal record.”
The ten hashtags that could land you in jail:
How to avoid becoming a money mule
1. Glam can be a scam - Be wary of accounts belonging to apparently glitzy users, offering an equally glamorous lifestyle at just a drop of a hat.
2. Emotional extortion - Fraudsters prey on your emotions, luring you in with everything from the promise of money to help with a family emergency, to a means to fund your latest trainer obsession. Be on your guard. It’s not charity, it’s just another way to scam you.
3. Shut it down - Spotted a dubious hashtag on social media? Report it to the site owner who will be able to shut down the hashtag and block the accounts that were using it to recruit.
4. Verify the vacancy - a job that looks too good to be true probably is – so play detective and double check. Always take a look at the company’s website to ensure they exist. Fake job adverts advertising ‘mystery shoppers’ or ‘payment processing agents’, are just more ways that money launderers get hold of your bank details.
5. Scammer under the hammer - Fraudsters looking for money mules also operate on auction-style websites such as eBay, targeting victims by claiming they have paid twice for an item by accident and requesting that the money is transferred into a different bank account. No mistake, just another ploy to get hold of your bank details.
6. Daylight robbery - Fraudsters don’t only prey online under the auspices of anonymous social media handles. They also recruit in person, such as waiting outside school gates offering children the promise of free food or goods in exchange for bank details. Stay alert and report any suspicions you might have.
Using a hashtag can't land you in jail. Being fraudulent can land you in jail. Standard, everyday clickbait.