Over the past few years, there’s been an increase of young people in Ireland allowing their accounts to be used to receive and move money on behalf of third parties. This money often originates from crime. Accounts used to launder criminal funds are called ‘mule accounts’, making the account holder a ‘money mule’.
Young and vulnerable people are increasingly being recruited as money mules and are often unaware that this means they’re involved in money laundering – which is a crime. Anyone allowing their account to be used for this can end up with a criminal record or a prison sentence.
Allowing someone to use your account may seem like a harmless thing to do and often money or expensive goods are offered in exchange for using your account, but you are engaging in illegal activity whether you know it or not and it could have serious consequences.
Here’s everything you need to know about “money muling”.
What is Money Muling?
A “money” mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts, very often in different countries, on behalf of others.
Money mules are also recruited by criminals to receive money into their bank account, in order to withdraw the money and in most cases wire it overseas, receiving a commission payment in return for the provided services.
Young people are often recruited as ‘money mules’ through social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, other messaging such as texting and WhatsApp, or in person at their school, university or sports clubs. They can be lured by the offer of money for allowing their account to be used, convinced they’re doing so as a favour, or can be coerced to get involved.
It may seem like an easy way to make money, but as well as being illegal, being a ‘money mule’ means they may also be helping to fund serious crimes such as people trafficking, terrorism and drug smuggling.
The increasing use of social media and online banking apps means that young people have never been more vulnerable to fraud and scams.
Can you go to jail for being a money mule?
Yes. Acting as a money mule is illegal and punishable, even if you aren’t aware you’re committing a crime. If you are a money mule, you could be prosecuted and and face jail as part of a criminal money laundering conspiracy.
Even if money mules are not involved in the crimes which generate the money (cybercrime, payment and on-line fraud, drugs and human trafficking, etc.), they are acting illegally by laundering the proceeds of crime, helping criminal syndicates move funds easily around the world and remain anonymous.
If you are caught acting as a money mule, even if done so unwittingly, you can face a prison sentence, fine or community service, and the prospect of never again being able to secure a mortgage or open a bank account.
How To Avoid The Money Muling Trap
- If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Never give your bank account or any other personal details to anyone unless you know and trust them.
- Be very cautious of unsolicited emails or approaches over social media promising opportunities to make easy money.
- Verify any company that makes you a job offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in your country.
- Be especially wary of job offers from people or companies overseas as it will be harder for you to find out if they really are legitimate.
- Look out for friends or family who suddenly have extra cash, or start buying expensive new clothes or electronics with little to no explanation as to how they got the money
- Be alert to any changes in their behaviour – someone involved in ‘money muling’ may become more secretive, withdrawn or appear stressed
What To Do If You Are Approached Or Worried You Might Have Accidentally Gotten Involved In Money Muling
If you have received e-mails or social media messages that you think might be parting of a money mule scam do not respond to them and do not click on any links they contain. Inform the Gardaí instead.
If after reading this article you believe that you are participating in a money mule scheme, stop transferring money immediately and notify your bank, the service you used to conduct the transaction, and law enforcement.
Although you can be punished under law for participating in Money Muling even if you didn’t know what you were doing, if you go to the Gardaí as soon as you realise they will take that into consideration and try help you. It’s better to be honest up front than be found out later on and be in way more trouble.