The hashtags which could land you in jail - Young people warned over 'money mule' posts
PUBLISHED: 15:20 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:59 06 September 2019
Young people are being increasingly targeted to act as "money mules" by criminals through social media, it has been warned.
Mules are recruited by fraudsters to transfer illegally gained money between different bank accounts and in return, keep some of the cash for themselves.
Organised crime gangs need mules to launder their profits, and the money is likely to have come from fraud, scams and other serious offences.
There were 31,846 mule accounts in 2017, which rose to 40,139 in 2018 - an increase of 26%.
So-called mule herders - those controlling networks of mule accounts - recruit prolifically online, through social media and instant messaging, according to UK's fraud prevention service, Cifas.
Cifas said young people, including school, college and university students, are often targeted due to being vulnerable and short of money.
In 2018, 27% of account holders were under the age of 21, with 50% 26 or younger.
If caught, money mules have their bank accounts closed, and could face a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Research by bank Santander found nearly a quarter of people (23%) said they would engage with and click on social media posts featuring "easy money" type hashtags.
MORE: Ipswich scammer jailed after using dead woman's bank account for money laundering
Chris Ainsley, head of fraud strategy at Santander, said: "It's alarming to see not just how criminals prey on unsuspecting social media users, but how many people are unaware of what a money mule even is.
"It takes just a few clicks to become embroiled in this type of crime, but the consequences can have a lifelong effect."
Santander commissioned reformed scam artist Tony Sales to investigate how criminals use hashtags to lure people in to becoming money mules.
During his investigation, Mr Sales identified ten hashtags commonly associated with money mule recruitment.
The ten hashtags which could land you in jail
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The rise in cases prompted a national campaign to be launched by UK Finance and Cifas at the end of last year to warn against the dangers of becoming a money mule.
As well as educating young people, the Don't Be Fooled campaign also aims to alert parents to look out for tell-tale signs that their child may be involved.
Temporary Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Wallace, of Suffolk police, said: "I would urge the public, particularly young people, to resist the temptation of online offers of cash if they allow their bank account to be used to transfer money across the system.
"Students are especially targeted online and I would remind them that this is not a risk-free activity and they are clearly committing offences by accepting a role in money laundering and or fraudulent activity.
"I would advise that you should block these social media requests/job adverts and never agree to opening a bank account on behalf of somebody else."
The campaign issued the following advice:
1. Do not give bank details to anyone you do not know or trust
2. Be wary of job offers where all interactions and transactions are done online
3. Be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money
4. Research any company that makes you a job offer
5. Be wary of job offers written in poor English with grammatical errors or spelling mistakes