Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Student ‘money mules’
Students are becoming money launderers now? Some of them anyway. Gardaí believe cyber criminals are increasingly targeting students and asking them to allow the use of their bank accounts for transferring their ill-gotten gains. Increasingly strict anti-money laundering rules are making it more difficult for criminals to hide cash in their own accounts or through businesses as used to be the practice.
As a result they have started splitting the money up into smaller consignments and distributing through the accounts of so-called “money mules”– often gullible students.
Students are being approached on campus or in bars by “money herders” and offered the chance to make a few hundred euro in exchange for allowing money to be transferred through their accounts. Many don’t realise it’s a crime while others don’t care. That doesn’t sound so serious.
It’s very serious. Money laundering is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Although a young money mule is unlikely to receive anything close to that or even to go to prison for a first offence, gardaí warn that a conviction can ruin future employment and travel prospects.
It’s not just students who are being targeted. Other people, particularly the unemployed, are being lured in with the promise of easy cash. Gardaí say “Get rich quick” or “earn money at home” advertisements shared over Facebook, Instagram and on WhatsApp are used to recruit mules.
Once the money is transferred out of the mules’ accounts, it becomes very difficult to trace. Gardaí say that although they don’t think it is being used to finance terrorism, they have no way of knowing for sure. Isis is known to have used “money mules” in the past to launder cash. Who’s behind it?
The money herders are recruited by gangs specialising in online fraud including chief fraud (impersonating the head of a business to convince an employee to transfer over money), romance fraud (starting a relationship with someone – usually online – before convincing them to hand over money) and invoice redirection scams (emailing a business pretending to be a supplier and convincing it to change the account it pays invoices to).
Most of these gangs are based outside Ireland as are most of their victims. One gang in particular has been highly active in recruiting Irish mules in recent years, and they have been the focus of much of the Garda’s attention. Are the Garda having any success?
Some. This week members from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau announced they have identified 420 mule accounts being used by one criminal network. They estimated a total of 165 fraud victims had lost ¤14.6 million to the network in recent years. Several cars have been seized and bank accounts containing ¤300,000 have also been frozen.
No arrests have been made but Det Chief Supt Pat Lordan said this was likely to change. “If you come back in six months time we will have a lot of arrests,” he said. Is this just an Irish problem?
Not at all. The latest Garda operation was part of an international sting led by Europol known as operation “EMMA 4”. Across 30 countries, 168 people were arrested and 1,504 money mules were identified along with 140 money herders.
Students are being offered the chance to make a few hundred euro by allowing money to be transferred through their accounts