The National Crime Agency is asking parents and carers to help young people avoid being persuaded or manipulated into laundering criminal cash.
The NCA’s call follows three weeks of coordinated law enforcement action against money mules – a term given to individuals enlisted by criminals to move the proceeds of crime through their bank accounts in return for a cut of the sum.
Around 6 in 10 money mules are under the age of 30, with most of these recruited between the ages of 17 and 24 while attending sixth form, college or university.
At this age, young people may be struggling financially, looking to become financially independent or lack financial experience, which criminals can use to exploit them.
This makes the most effective time to raise children's awareness of the threat when they are aged 11-16.
Money mules are often targeted through seemingly legitimate job offers announced via online forums, emails, social media or pop-up ads with the promise of quick and easy earnings. Once they have established contact, recruiters will often try to develop a relationship or rapport with the young person and groom or coerce them into providing the service.
A young person may not always be aware of the consequences of being a money mule, which can be serious.
Money mules frequently end up with a criminal record and can face prison, a fine or community service for their role.
Those involved endanger themselves and those around them by communicating with dangerous criminals, and risk becoming complicit in serious and organised crime.
What parents and carers can do
The ask to parents and carers is simple: check in with those you have responsibility for, and establish regular conversations about staying safe online.
Help them to be cautious and critical of unsolicited offers that sound too good to be true; and explain the consequences of involvement in financial crime. Reassure them that they will be supported if they speak up and seek help.
The warning signs aren’t always obvious. If you are concerned that your child is a money mule, ask your child about new possessions, such as expensive goods, that they cannot account for, and look out for new bank accounts containing money they can’t adequately explain the origin of.
If you are concerned your child is being criminally exploited, report money muling to local police on 101. Call 999 in an emergency, for example where there is a threat to life.
Visit the NCA website for information and advice: https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/moneymuling
During November 2023, the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) – which is housed within the NCA – coordinated UK law enforcement agencies and financial institutions in taking joint action against money mules. The activity contributed to the ninth iteration of the continent-wide annual European Money Mule Action (EMMA), led by Europol.
Over three weeks, regional law enforcement teams across the UK made 14 arrests, secured freezing orders over five banks accounts containing more than £500,000 and seized £6,600 in cash. Officers also executed 11 search warrants, issued 115 warning letters, and spoke with universities, banks, community groups, elderly and vulnerable individuals across the country to raise awareness of the issue.
Nick Sharp, Deputy Director of the National Economic Crime Centre, said:
“Money muling is a significant money laundering threat and allows organised criminal groups to access the profits of some of the most serious crimes in the UK.
“We are actively coordinating with policing and the private sector, as well as those based across the continent, to crack down on it.
“Our message is plain: help us spread the word and prevent children and young people from getting involved or used for money laundering.
“If you want to help someone you think is already involved in money muling, visit www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/moneymuling for more information.”
Detective Superintendent Oliver Little, Head of National Coordinators Office (NCO) and Lead Force Operations Room (LFOR) at the City of London Police, said:
"The results achieved by EMMA represent the culmination of months of meticulous planning and hard work by numerous officers from across Europe.
“In collaboration with the National Crime Agency, City of London Police has worked closely with regional teams in the UK to coordinate arrests, execute warrants, and charge suspects involved in money laundering and/or acting as money mules.
“Through diligent effort and leveraging the expertise of hundreds of officers from various agencies, we have been able to successfully disrupt illicit activity, preventing unlawful funds from reaching the hands of criminals."
8 December 2023