As anti-money laundering systems improve and law enforcement agencies become more stringent, criminals are finding creative ways to make dirty money appear legal. This unfortunately leads to students and young adults as targets for criminals due to their naivety and the appeal of easy money. Students must be wary of such opportunities for fast money because it often involves suspicious and likely illegal activity. BBC recently published an article that highlights the potential troubles that “money mules” can face with law enforcement.

What are Money Mules?

Money mules are individuals used by criminals to slip illegally obtained money past law enforcement measures. Similar to drug mules, money mules are not necessarily involved in obtaining the money, but are targeted because of their innocent appearance. According to the BBC article, “The money laundered is likely to have come from drug smuggling, people trafficking, and terrorism.” Money mules simply make their bank accounts accessible to criminals so that the launderers are able to transfer funds in and out of the accounts. As a reward for making their accounts available, the criminals will typically let the individual keep a percentage of the funds. Often, students may not even be aware of the fact that they are taking part in illicit activity. Criminals can post fake job advertisements such as “financial manager,” which gives the unsuspecting student a sense of security and authority. Once a few transactions have been made without consequence, individuals may feel increasingly committed to the position, and feel as though they are beyond repercussion.

Consequences of Acting as a Money Mule

After a period of success as a money mule, law authorities may eventually catch on to the irregular pattern of bank account transactions. Whether the money is being deposited in large quantities, or consists of several micro transactions, anti-money laundering systems utilize their algorithms to identify and flag questionable activity related to laundering or other types of fraud. According to the article, “If caught, money mules have their bank accounts closed and could face jail.” Because the money is filtered through the account of the mule, the authorities may place the spotlight on them rather than the actual criminals. Between January and September of 2017, 18 to 24 year olds were involved in over 8,000 cases regarding money mules in the United Kingdom, according to Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service. In the U.K., money laundering can be punishable by up to 14 years in prison, which is a major setback in the life of a young adult. In order to avoid such consequences, there are several steps students can take to ensure that they do not fall victim to such schemes.

How to Avoid Becoming a Money Mule

While searching for potential job postings, individuals must be wary of fake contact information. If job listings seem like they are too good to be true, it is a smart idea to do extra background research and search for references when applying. The article also cites some tips to avoid being a money mule, including keeping bank details away from strangers, being wary of jobs that involve strictly online transactions, and watching out for job offers that contain typos or poor English. There are several legal ways that students can make extra money, so it is advisable to stay away from any promises of free or easy money to avoid legal repercussion. By exercising vigilance and staying away from dubious offers, students can stay away from troubles with law enforcement and financial institutions.

Forensics, Law, & Criminal Justice