Money Mules! Don’t be a victim

Can I use your bank account details to receive my salary or money from a friend? Can I use your accounts details to transfer money abroad? Can we use your private (personal) account details for a business transaction? I believe we are familiar with these questions and have even been victims in the past before. If yes, then you might have been a money mule and could have been jailed for helping to launder money for a criminal. Global mule networks form the primary way to siphon proceeds of crime money through the banking ecosystem in an attempt to avoid detection and capture.

 

A money mule, sometimes called a ‘smurfer’, is a person who transfers money acquired illegally (e.g. stolen) in person, through a courier service, or electronically on behalf of others. Typically, the mule is paid for services with a small part of the money transferred. Money mules are often dupes recruited online for what they think is legitimate employment, not aware that the money they are transferring is the product of crime. The money is transferred from the mule’s account to the scam operator, typically in another country. Fraudsters often target people who don’t have a history of criminal activity to make these transactions seem less suspicious to banks. You won’t know where the money is coming from, or where it’s going, but it could be used to fund drugs, child-trafficking or even terrorism.

 

Criminals who run money mule scams often pose as employers offering genuine employment, sometimes via job adverts and personal approaches. These criminals recruit their mules from schools (Universities, Technical Universities, and Colleges) and offer job opportunities to the students. The criminal uses the bank account details of these students to collect monies for the supposed goods and/or service rendered. The funds are then transferred to other accounts, mostly abroad. A recent publication on the website of The London Economic (www.thelondoneconomic.com) suggests that a bank staff helped the UK authorities to bust a criminal gang that laundered £1.5 million using foreign students’ bank accounts. This phenomenon (money mule) is taking root in our youth, especially students.

 

Another way criminals use money mules to launder their dirty money is when they (criminals) buy the account details of international students who have graduated and are leaving the country. These students are tricked into believing that their actions are harmless and can earn some extra cash. The funds are laundered into these accounts and transferred to other accounts controlled by the criminal using Internet banking and/or other means.

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This activity is encouraged because of the ‘quick to get rich’ syndrome among our young graduates. As for money mules, they’re sometimes persuaded – with the incentive of keeping a cut of the funds – to allow money transfers into their own bank accounts at the direction of a criminal they may mistake for an employer, online friend or romantic partner. They’re then instructed to transfer those funds elsewhere, into accounts controlled by criminals.

 

Criminals are increasingly targetting young people (especially cash-strapped students) for this purpose through social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Twitter etc.). They message them with promises of making quick and easy money by lending them their bank account details, including for their debit card and PIN.

 

The following characteristics do not necessarily indicate a money mule solicitation, but they are common red flags that indicate solicitations:

  • The position involves transferring money or goods
  • The specific job duties are not described
  • The company is located in another country
  • The position does not list education or experience requirements
  • All interactions and transactions will be done online
  • The offer promises significant earning potential for little effort
  • The writing is awkward and includes poor sentence structure
  • The email address associated with the offer uses a web-based service (Gmail, Yahoo, Windows Live Hotmail, etc.) instead of an organisation-based domain

 

In order to fight against this menace of money laundering and terrorist financing, the citizenry, especially the youth, should take the following steps to protect themselves from being used as money mules.

 

If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look for common warning signs and do some research before agreeing to participate. If you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, stop transferring money and merchandise immediately and notify the appropriate authorities such as your bank, the financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and the law enforcement authorities.

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Another way people can protect themselves from being used as money mules is by not allowing people to use your account details for their banking transactions. Encourage them to get their own bank account.

 

Never answer messages or give a positive follow-up to telephone calls promising you large amounts of money in exchange for submitting your bank account number, or requesting that you carry out international transactions for someone.

 

We should note that money mules don’t just attack one bank: they attack all banks. But the problem with information sharing between banks makes it hard for the financial industry to stem the flow. Also, linking the bank account details from different banks of a customer to a national database would go a long way in the fight against money mules used to launder money. This is so because once the customer is identified as a money mule and blacklisted from having a bank account, he or she will not be able to operate a bank account in another bank for a number of years. This is similar to what the central bank of Nigeria has implemented in Nigeria, called the Bank Verification Number (BVN).

 

Not realising that you are a money mule and that money laundering is a crime is never accepted as an excuse (ignorance of the law is not an excuse) – you can still face prosecution by the police. Never be fooled by offers of quick cash. Once you become a money mule, it can be difficult to stop. You could be attacked or threatened with violence if you don’t continue allowing your account to be used by criminals.

 

Would you mind doing me a favour? Share this article with someone so that the awareness of money laundering and terrorist financing can be spread to avoid people being used as conduits by criminals.

 

If you require further information on this article, please contact Richieson @richieson.gyeniboateng@gmail.com

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