Gangs targeting young people and their accounts to move money, gardaí warn

Some 700 ‘money mules’ identified in State last year, mainly recruited online

College students and secondary-school pupils are being targeted by crime gangs who wanted to pay them for use of their bank accounts

College students and secondary-school pupils are being targeted by crime gangs who wanted to pay them for use of their bank accounts

 

College students and secondary-school pupils are being targeted by crime gangs who want to pay them for use of their bank accounts, the Garda has warned.

Some 700 suspected “money mules” have been identified in the Republic in the last year, many of them teenagers or in their early 20s and recruited on college campuses and in schools, sports clubs and workplaces – but mostly online.

The “mule accounts” are being used to move and hide the proceeds of crime, and there is “nothing virtual or harmless” about it, gardaí said.

Parents and teachers should have a conversation with young people about the scams and preemptively warn them as they would be “very easy to find” once gardaí began investigating, the Garda said.

Det Supt Michael Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) said young people were being enticed with offers of “easy money” but they were soon identified in criminal investigations and charged with money laundering.

They were “destroying their futures” by taking up offers of earning money so easily that it was “too good to be true”. They needed to be aware that offers being made to them on social media or messaging apps were being sent out by serious organised crime gangs.

Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan said whereas drugs gangs used mules to take the risk of carrying drugs across borders and within countries, gangs involved in frauds and online scams were now doing the same with money mules.

They were securing access to the bank accounts of people and taking receipt of funds, from crimes, into those accounts before their withdrawal or transfer to other accounts. Money mules were sometimes paid a fee, but their money trail was easily traced to their accounts.

Det Supt Cryan said some young people agreed to allow their bank accounts be used to pay off drug debts or were coerced, but usually they became involved when they saw an offer online to make “easy money”. In some cases the young person “handed over” their bank card to the person who recruited them, though others agreed to carry out withdrawals themselves.

“We had identified over 700 young people all over the country who have acted as money mules in the last year,” he said, adding that in one inquiry 60 mules were identified, 43 of whom had been arrested to date, with some of those charged and facing up to 14 years in prison.

The average amount that went into their accounts was €6,000, and anyone identified had their home searched and were arrested.

If convicted, money mules face prison, being on a terrorism watchlist and having their credit rating ruined to the extent that securing a loan or even a phone contract would become impossible. Their involvement would also show up on any Garda vetting conducted on them, and securing visas to go abroad or securing employment would be impacted.

“We are seeing people as young as 15 or 16 being used so parents and teachers need to look out for the warning signs and to educate about the dangers of ‘easy money’ offers,” Det Supt Cryan said.

Gardaí added because they have been working so closely with the banks to rapidly identify and close money mule accounts, and freeze the money in them, gangs are now often only using an account for one deposit or cash transfer.

That has created the need for gangs to recruit large numbers of money mules to facilitate the financial side of their, mostly cyber-enabled, crimes.

In one recent case investigated by the Garda, 53 people were identified as having acted as money mules with a total of €1.5 million transferred through their accounts, with 32 arrests to date. Of those arrested, 20 suspects were male and were aged 16-38, with an average age of 21. The other 12 suspects arrested were female, ranging in age 15-22, with an average age of 19.

The majority of the suspects had never been in trouble with the Garda before, and evidence was uncovered of those people being targeted in schools and colleges or via social media and messaging apps.