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Criminal gangs turn jobseekers and students into ‘money mules’

Lana Clements

Hundreds of thousands of jobseekers are at risk of unwittingly funding international drugs gangs, people traffickers and terrorism, experts have warned.

The scheme recruits ordinary members of the public through online job adverts and is laundering thousands of pounds to criminal gangs, according to Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK).

Up to 15% of adults in the UK have been targeted by the set-up, which could land participants with a jail sentence.

Criminals specifically target people on low-incomes, such as students, the unemployed and recent immigrants, warned FFA UK.

Almost half of students and new entrants to the UK approached by the scheme have considered the ‘job offer’. One in five students approached has accepted the work.

How it works

The fake job adverts, often for positions such as ‘money transfer agent’ or ‘payment processing agent’, turn participants into unsuspecting money mules.

After accepting the job, the so-called agent receives money into their bank account and is then asked to transfer the cash to another account. The ‘worker’ is allowed to keep a percentage of the funds.

But, the money received is generally stolen or illegally gained, often through fraud on bank accounts, and is being laundered to overseas bank accounts.

The activity is illegal and can result in prison sentences, the freezing of participants’ bank accounts and difficulty in taking out financial products in the future.

“What might initially seem an attractive method of boosting your income during tough times is in reality the work of determined international criminals, aiming to turn the public into an unwitting army of accomplices to fraud,” said DCI Dave Carter, head of cheque and plastic crime.

“Whether through naivety or ‘wilful blindness’ to the consequences, members of the public need to reject any approach for their bank account to be used in this way.”

How to spot a criminal money laundering approach:
Unsolicited emails promising opportunities to make easy money are often too good to be true
Money mule adverts are often written in poor English with grammatical and spelling mistakes
The adverts normally masquerade as an overseas company seeking ‘UK representatives’ or ‘agents’ to act on their behalf for a period of time, sometimes to avoid high transaction charges or local taxes
The nature of the work of the company varies, but the specifics of the job invariably entail using your bank account to move money
Before accepting work, always check a company’s contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in the UK
Money mule adverts or offers may even copy a genuine company’s website and have a similar web address to make the scam seem authentic

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 that you think could be a money mule scam, contact your bank immediately

Example text of money mule email:

Dear recipient,

Sunnexsystems announces the beginning of a new global employment campaign offering you one more opportunity to earn extra money working with Sunnexsystems.

We are looking for honest, responsible, hard-working people that can dedicate 2-4 hours of their time per day adn earn 300-500 GBP weekly. All offered positions are currently part-time and give you a chance to work mainly from home.

Please visit Sunnexsystems's corporate web site for more details regarding these vacancies.