On December 5, the Irish Examiner reported that in connection with the European Money Mule Action (EMMA) operation, Irish police (Gardaí) have found criminal groups using college students “to funnel millions of euros through hundreds of Irish bank accounts in the last three years.” Many of the 420 Irish bank accounts, through which €14.6 million was reportedly laundered, belonged to students, and many of the students agreed to allow their accounts to be used for laundering funds in exchange for a few hundred euros.
Garda Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan stated that because Irish anti-money laundering legislation had made it more difficult for criminals to open accounts directly, criminals designated “herders” approach college students in bats and on social media. Some students also were solicited by responding to “work-from-home” advertisements.
In the EMMA operation, in which the Gardaí reportedly participated for the first time, the Gardaí conducted 30 interviews, froze 25 bank accounts, and seized €300,000 in cash and four cars, and four individuals were charged.
EMMA began in 2016 as a five-day enforcement action, modeled on a successful Dutch law enforcement operation. At that time, law enforcement authorities and judicial bodies in eight European nations participated, with support from Europol, Eurojust, and the European Banking Federation (EBF). EMMA has now become a major law enforcement operation across the European Union.
On December 4, Europol announced that the fourth and latest iteration of EMMA (EMMA 4), conducted during September through November 2018, involved 30 nations – 27 European countries as well as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – along with Europol, Eurojust, and the EBF. In EMMA 4, more than 300 banks, 20 bank associations, and other financial institutions helped to report 26,376 fraudulent “money mule” transactions, preventing a total loss of €36.1 million. In addition, 837 criminal investigations were opened, and police forces from more than 20 States arrested 168 people as of December 4 and identified 1,504 money mules and 140 money mule organizers. Europol particularly noted that “cases involving young people selected by money mule recruiters are on the rise, with criminals increasingly targeting financially-distressed students to gain access to their bank accounts.”
Note: University compliance and security officers at European universities should take note of this information, and use it to inform university students about these recruiting tactics and the potential consequences of serving as money mules. In addition, European banks that are aware that they have a significant number of university students accountholders should take the opportunity, especially at branches near university campuses, to provide similar information on their premises and online.