Cash-strapped graduates are being targeted by criminal gangs who want to use them as ‘money mules’, to launder the proceeds of crime. Experts warn that thousands of young people are being enticed by fake jobs as a ‘money transfer agent’, ‘payment processing agent’ or ‘local processor’, unwittingly allowing their personal bank account to be used as a deposit account for the movement of funds from criminals including drug barons and child traffickers.

Students and graduates — who are particularly vulnerable as fraudsters know they are short of cash — are being urged to learn how to spot scam jobs. Becoming involved — even without realising — could result in your bank account being closed, making it hard to get loans, mortgages or mobile phone contracts in the future. It would even land you in prison for up to 14 years.

According to the new research, in the last year there has been a 75% rise in the number of 18-24 year olds who are letting their bank accounts be used to transfer the proceeds of crime. An alarming 8,652 cases were reported between January and September 2017, prompting the launch of a hard-hitting joint campaign by Cifas (the UK’s fraud prevention service) and Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA, the body that leads the fight against financial fraud on behalf of the banks and credit card companies).

Katy Worobec, Head of Fraud and Financial Crime Prevention, Cyber and Data Sharing, at UK Finance – the organisation behind FFA UK – said:

“Money muling is money laundering and criminals are using young people as mules in increasing numbers. We know that students and new graduates are particularly vulnerable as they are often short of cash, especially those graduates looking for a job after finishing university. That’s why we have launched the Don’t Be Fooled campaign.

“When you’re caught, your bank account will be closed, making it difficult to access cash and credit. You could even face up to 14 years in jail.”

So how can you make sure you don’t become a victim? Money mules are often recruited unwittingly by criminals posing as employers. Fraudsters may approach you with what looks like a genuine job offer, asking you to receive money into your personal bank account and transferring it to another account, letting you keep some of the cash for yourself.

Such roles are advertised as jobs such as “payment processing agent”, “money transfer agent” or “local processor” through job sites, spam emails, instant messenger, social media or newspaper ads. These jobs often promise large amounts of money for very little work.

“We’re urging students and graduates not to give their bank account details to anyone unless they know and trust them,” says Worobec. “If an offer of easy money sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Always research a new employer thoroughly, particularly if they are based overseas, before handing over your personal or financial details to them. No legitimate company will ever ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money, so don’t accept any job offers that ask you to do this.

Through Don’t Be Fooled, FFA UK and Cifas want to highlight that becoming a money mule means you are involved with money laundering. Banks have sophisticated systems in place to track fraudulent transactions and when a person is caught misusing their account in this way, it will be closed and they will find it difficult to open an account elsewhere.

The organised criminal gangs behind money mule scams often use the proceeds of crime to commit other serious offences such as drug and people trafficking, sexual exploitation and terrorism.

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