There has been a sharp increase in the number of money mules aged over 40. The same survey also reveals that a large number of young people would be willing to move money in return for cash.
Money mules use their bank account to receive criminal cash, either intentionally or unintentionally – money that has been stolen through a scam.
Generally money mules are younger people, but the last 12 months have seen a surge in cases amongst older age groups, with a 26% increase in those aged 31 to 39, and a 29% increase in those aged over 40, caught moving fraudulent funds through their bank account, according to figures from Lloyds (LLOY.L).
Still, those under the age of 24 typically account for around half of all money mules identified.
People can be duped or pressured into working with fraudsters through social media posts, fake job advertisements or targeted emails, which promise cash in exchange for making bank transfers, withdrawing and depositing money, or giving over control of their bank account to someone else.
“Many of the money mules we’ve caught had no idea they were engaging in criminal activity. The promise of quick and easy cash was enough to tempt them into moving money through their bank account in exchange for a fee or a cut of the funds,” Liz Ziegler, consumer fraud and financial crime director at Lloyds Bank, said.
“But behind all of these apparent get-rich-quick schemes are organised criminal gangs, desperate to launder the cash they’ve stolen, often from innocent scam victims. That’s why the penalties for becoming a money mule are so severe and can include a prison sentence,” she added.
If caught moving stolen funds, money mules will be left with no bank account, a damaged credit score and the inability to apply for a loan or even a phone contract in the future. They could also end up with a 14-year prison sentence for the crime.
However, the survey showed that almost one in 10 (9%) 18- to 24-year-olds said they would agree to move money through their bank account in return for a fee or a percentage of the funds.
Read more: Scams cost victims over £1.3bn last year
Students can be particularly vulnerable given they might be living away from home for the first time and looking for extra income.
Fewer than half (43%) of people realise that being asked to move money through their account on behalf of someone else could be the sign of a scam, or an attempt to hide or disguise the original source of stolen funds.
Likewise only around half (49%) of people are aware that the maximum penalty for being a money mule is a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Lloyds employs a "mule-hunting team" to stop the movement of money from scams which has uncovered more than 130,000 mule accounts and stopped £91.7m from falling into the hands of fraudsters in real-time since it was first set up in 2018.