More than 700 “money mule” transactions totalling €5 million moved through Irish bank accounts in the first half of the year, according to new industry figures, with the majority of incidents involving 18- to 24-year-olds.
FraudSmart, a fraud awareness initiative led by the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), urged young people and their parents to be wary of the dangers posed by the phenomenon and the “lifelong” consequences that can result.
“Money muling” is the name given to situations where people agree to open a new bank account in their name in order to receive a money transfer or series of inbound payments on behalf of a criminal operation.
Acting as a money mule is itself a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 and can carry up to 14 years’ imprisonment, as well as making it difficult for “mules” to access financial services for their own purposes in future.
FraudSmart said transactions like these typically begin after the person receives an unsolicited email or social media message that promises easy money for little or no effort.
It also warned people not to accept any job offers that ask them to use their own bank account to transfer money, while people should never give their financial details to somebody they don’t know and trust, in particular if they have met them online.
It advised parents and guardians to be on the lookout for possible warning signs such as their child suddenly having extra money or becoming secretive, withdrawn or stressed. Teenagers are “particularly at risk”, according to FraudSmart, because they are often unaware of the true nature of the activity they are undertaking.
It called on parents and guardians who think their child has become a victim of money muling to contact their local Garda station and inform their bank.
"Criminals are deliberately targeting teens and young adults when recruiting money mules so it is critical that this age group as well as their parents fully understand how these crimes operate and how they can avoid getting caught up in it," said BPFI chief executive Brian Hayes.
He said this was “pertinent now more than ever” as young people have fewer part-time or summer employment opportunities due to the pandemic. “Criminals are very aware of this and very much seeking to capitalise on this.”