Student Money Mules: Easy (but Dirty) Money
Picture the scene: You’re at college or university, trying desperately to fit in studying with making friends; you’ve joined almost every club and society that your timetable will permit, and as you’re just about to embark on a social scene that will make your Facebook account the envy of everyone you’ve ever known – you realise, just as that dreaded feeling in the bottom of your stomach sets in, that you need extra cash – there’s just no way that the student loan will cover everything (thanks in no small part to rising tuition fees).
No worries – you can become a money mule. There will be no rude customers or late nights to contend with, no menial tasks to complete as you keep your eye on the clock – all you need is a bank account and the competence to transfer funds from one bank account to another. To steal a catchphrase from a Meerkat – Simples.
Yet what you might not know is that the sudden rise in online job adverts hiring ‘Money Transfer Agents’ or ‘Payment Processing Agents’ are actually fictitious job offers for fraud. The real job title is “Money Mule”.
What may be more startling is that such job offers and their promise of easy money (or in this case, a generous slice of the funds) provide an enticing option to students who are actively seeking new money-making ventures. In fact recent research by ICM, conducted on behalf of Financial Fraud Action, revealed that of those surveyed, 47% considered accepting the work and a staggering 19% of students did actually volunteer.
In simple terms a Money Mule is someone who is given a “job” which involves receiving money into their bank account and then transferring it to another account. The reward is that the Money Mule is allowed to keep a small percentage of the amount involved.
Agreeing to act as a so-called Money Transfer Agent not only helps to foster the cycle of criminal activity, in which the stolen (now cleaned) money will go towards funding organised crimes, such as drug dealing, human trafficking and terrorism; but the penalties can also be severe – at best your bank account could be closed and at worst – a ten year prison sentence could be beckoning.
To impede an unwanted wave of student money launderers, UK Crimestoppers has launched its appropriately titled ‘Don’t be a Mule’ campaign throughout universities in parts of the UK. Students studying in London are said to be at the most risk but the simplicity of the Internet means that anyone and everyone can be targeted.
There are many key signs to look out for, but one of the most common appears to be adverts which request UK representatives or agents for overseas companies – since you will usually be asked to transfer the money to offshore accounts.
As DCI Dave Carter, Head of the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU) warned: “What might initially seem an attractive method of boosting your income whilst studying is in reality the work of determined international criminals, aiming to turn students into an unwitting army of accomplices to fraud…students need to reject any approach for their bank account to be used in this way.”