Money Laundering Title. Shows NCA image of cash seized from an international controller network. Please see case study below for more information.

Alongside traditional methods, money laundering networks continue to innovate. Cryptoassets are increasingly used to launder non-digital proceeds of crime such as cash, as well as acquired via increasing levels of cyber crime, such as theft, malware and ransomware.

More than £10 billion in both non-cash and cash-based money mule activity is estimated to be laundered via money mule activity in the UK annually. Source: National Crime Agency.Organised crime groups continue to use money mules to introduce illicit cash into the banking system. There is a realistic possibility that more people and/or businesses will be drawn into acting as money mules due to cost of living pressures.

UK based criminals continue to use over the counter methods such as everyday banking at the Post Office to introduce cash into the UK banking system. It is a realistic possibility that Chinese underground banking networks exploit this, as well as other financial sector vulnerabilities, to launder billions of pounds annually in the UK.

International controller networks use a variety of methods to provide a professional money laundering service to criminals. They are increasingly able to exchange cash to cryptoassets on behalf of global criminal networks. This links UK generated proceeds of crime to transnational cyber crime impacting victims worldwide.

UK corporate structures enable money laundering due to vulnerabilities in their creation and oversight. Tens of billions of pounds of both UK and overseas generated proceeds of crime are likely laundered through UK registered corporate structures every year. Potential indicators of money laundering via corporate structure misuse include multiple companies being registered at the same residential address and the creation of large numbers of dormant companies.

Electronic money institutions and payment institutions, including money service businesses, feature prominently in investigations. They are used to transfer criminal proceeds globally by organised crime groups, likely attracted by simpler and quicker procedures for opening accounts. 

Professional enablers continue to be used to conceal and move criminal assets. Professional enablers are individuals or organisations that provide professional services that enable criminality. Their behaviour is deliberate, reckless, improper, dishonest and/or negligent through a failure to meet their professional and regulatory obligations.

The war in Ukraine, resulting sanctions and cost of living pressures increase the risk for bribery and corruption to occur in increasingly competitive markets, or in attempts to maintain trade covertly. For example, the extractive industry is a high risk sector for international bribery and corruption and increasing pressure for alternative sources to Russian oil and gas are likely to provide opportunities for this threat.

The scale of sanctions against Russia and complexity of economic links to the UK mean that Putin-linked individuals currently pose the greatest risk for sanctions evasion. Most methods used to evade financial asset freezes are non-complex, such as a simple transfer of assets, or are anticipatory, transferring assets to trusted proxies, such as relatives or employees, before designation. 

Over £300 million denied to criminals as a result of defence against money laundering requests, April 2021-March 2022. Source: National Crime Agency.The threat from market abuse remains, risking the integrity of the financial system, eroding confidence and lowering participation. The Financial Conduct Authority, which investigates market abuse, assesses that the greatest threat in terms of financial value comes from persistent insider dealing by international organised crime networks. The groups recruit insider sources to illegally disclose price-sensitive information about global markets.

What You Can Do

The money mule prevention strategic communications campaign #DontBeUsed was launched in October 2022. The campaign aims to raise awareness of and help protect the public from money mule recruiters.

The campaign uses social media ads and influencers to reach the three key audiences of young people, parents and carers and education professionals.

The campaign encourages you to do five things to tackle mule recruiters:

  1. Ask a friend or someone in a trusted position for advice.
  2. Report mule recruiters to local police by calling 101 or to Crimestoppers.
  3. If you have fallen victim to fraud, report it to Action Fraud in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. For Scotland report to Police Scotland by calling 101.
  4. If you think someone is already involved, visit here for advice.
  5. Boost your online security.

Case Study

NCA image showing cash that has been vacuum packed in suitcases as described in the case study.The head of an international controller network which smuggled millions of pounds of criminal cash out of the UK was jailed in July 2022 for nine years and seven months. The individual arranged travel for a cash courier network, who between them, smuggled £104 million from the UK to UAE between November 2019 and October 2020.

The group collected cash from organised crime groups and took it to counting houses, where it was vacuum packed in suitcases (as shown in image) containing about £500,000 each and odorous/fragrant articles were used in an effort to avoid detection by Border Force dogs.

The couriers flew business class for the extra luggage allowance and declared the cash on arrival in Dubai, using a front company in customs declarations.

The investigation team gathered enough evidence relating to the head of the controller network that he pleaded guilty. International Liaison Officers and the National Economic Crime Centre supported the investigation team in facilitating a working relationship with UAE law enforcement to gather evidence against the wider money laundering group.

Disguising the Origin and Destination of Funds

Graphic showing how organised crime groups disguise the origin and destination of funds. Organised crime groups use money mule networks to move proceeds of crime through personal and/or business bank accounts. This disguises both the origin and ultimate destination of criminally derived funds.