Report: Young people looking for work during the pandemic targeted by ‘money mule’ scams online


Scammers approach victims for money mule operations online through emails, chat rooms, websites and social media. — 123rf.com

Fake adverts on jobs websites and social media platforms are increasingly being used by criminal gangs to recruit young people as money mules to launder profits from illegal activities, according to a report by the Financial Times.

Data by trade association UK Finance and fraud prevention service Cifas revealed that in 2020, there were more than 17,000 suspected money mule cases involving victims described as “Generation Covid” or young people looking for employment during the pandemic who are between 21 to 30 years of age.

The FT report stated that the age group accounted for 42% of money mule activity in the UK in 2020, compared to 38% three years ago.

‘Don’t Be Fooled’, an online awareness campaign by Cifas and UK Finance, detailed how those who answer these bogus “easy money” job adverts will be asked to receive money into their bank accounts and to then transfer the money into another account, with the promise of being able to keep some of the money for themselves.

However, by doing so they would have unwittingly become a money mule, or part of a money laundering scheme, which is a crime punishable by law. The campaign also warned that money mules could be threatened or attacked if they try to quit.

UK Finance added while that mules are mostly unaware that the money may have originated from fraud, scams and other serious crimes, they are also often unaware that allowing their bank accounts to be used in this manner will have long-term consequences when they are caught, including ending up with a criminal record, having their bank account closed and difficulty opening one elsewhere, to name but a few.

UK Finance managing director of economic crime Katy Worobec told Financial Times that criminals are “cruelly preying” on Generation Covid by recruiting them as money mules.

The trade association said money mule ads on social media often depict a person showing off a huge amount of cash or showcasing a luxurious lifestyle. Social media users seeing these ads will be asked to send a private message to earn easy cash by becoming “money transfer agents” or “local processors”.

The Financial Times stated that one video titled “How to make money in school” has received more than 120,000 likes on TikTok.

In Malaysia, banking website Maybank2u has released a security alert on how scammers approach victims for money mule operations online through emails, chat rooms, websites and social media.

It said that scammers will often entice victims with “lucrative scheme and monetary rewards” to use their bank accounts and even ATM cards for illegal money transfer. When fraud is detected, it said that the mule account holder will be investigated by authorities.

The company advises users to check unknown recipient account numbers on Semak Mule webpage before performing any banking transactions.

Semak Mule was introduced by the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) to help members of the public identify if any bank accounts or phone numbers have been used in fraud activities by seeing the number of police reports that have been made against it.

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