Scottish and Irish Students Targeted for Recruitment as “Money Mules”

Two recent reports over the past two weeks show the intensity of efforts by criminal to recruit young people, especially students, in Scotland and Ireland to serve as “money mules” by allowing their bank accounts to be used for money laundering.  First, on September 13, The Journal.ie reported that dozens of young women “have unwittingly been recruited by criminal gangs at [Irish] musical festivals to launder money through online applications as well as through their own bank accounts.”

The Gardaí (Irish Police) stated that students “are often targeted by the practice.” According to The Journal.ie, “Experts in the field believe that the recruiters use music festivals as a way to access bank accounts from vulnerable women, often times taking advantage of someone who is in an intoxicated state.”

Irish banks are reporting an average of 1,600 cases of money muling per year.  The Journal.ie cited sources who

explained how young teenage women are commonly targeted in person, while it is men who are usually recruited online.

Multiple sources have told TheJournal.ie that events such as Longitude in the Marlay Park, All Together Now and the Electric Picnic were infiltrated by a number of these criminals. Some of those attempting to recruit people have come from the UK, attempted to start a romantic relationship with the young women and then asked to use their accounts.

The Head of Fraud for the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), Niamh Davenport, told the Journal.ie that “[a] significant amount of the money which is moved through money mules in Ireland is done using a method called invoice redirect fraud.”  This form of fraud involves

criminals send[ing] emails to businesses purporting to be one of their legitimate suppliers. These emails contain an instruction to change the bank account details that the business has for a legitimate supplier, to bank account details that ultimately benefit the criminals. These requests can also come by way of letter or phone call so caution should attach to any request of this nature.

In late 2018, the Gardaí reportedly conducted a three-month operation in Ireland, with support from Europol, that identified 420 money mule accounts that had been used to launder €14.6 million over the previous two to three years, as well as five so-called “herders” operating in Ireland to recruit money mules.

Second, on September 19, The Times reported that “[t]he number of young Scots falling prey to money laundering has tripled in two years, amid concerns that thousands of students do not know how to protect themselves from fraud.”

According to data from the United Kingdom-based bank Barclays, “Three times as many young Scots fell prey to the schemes last year” as in 2016.  In addition, in 2018, police addressed 9,636 cases of money muling across the United Kingdom, and in April 2019 Police Scotland charged 29 people in a “money mule” operation.

The Barclays data also showed that

[m]ore than 70 per cent of Scottish students said they were unaware of the consequences of money muling, which can include a prison sentence and difficulties getting bank accounts or student loans. Almost 60 per cent would be tempted by a “too good to be true” job advert from an unknown company, and 45 per cent would be interested in an offer to make quick cash from home — all terms used to recruit mules.

Note: These reports indicate that Barclays, Facebook, and government authorities have been seeking to publicize the risks that young people may unwittingly assume by agreeing to serve as money mules – including the potential for prison time.  Even so, social-media companies and financial institutions operating in Europe clearly need to increase their educational efforts on this issue.

The problem is by no means limited to European nations, but the vast concentration of students in the United Kingdom and other parts of Western Europe represent a vast and tempting target for money-laundering operations.  The public and private sectors need to do more to collaborate in reducing that threat.

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