During the pandemic, many criminals focused on recruiting young people using phony “get rich quick schemes” on social media. But new figures suggest that a growing number of older people are making themselves “money mules” by allowing their bank accounts to be used to move money illegally.

Organised, criminal gangs have a range of techniques in place to persuade people to transfer money for them, often without the victim even being aware that they’re doing something illegal. It could be as innocent as agreeing to hold or move money for someone as a favour.

There are serious consequences to money muling, even if you weren’t aware of what you were doing at the time. So read on to learn more about money muling, the scams that lure people in, and how to avoid being a victim.

What are “money mules"?

Money mules are people who are asked by criminals to transfer stolen or illegally obtained money between different bank accounts. Money mules receive the stolen funds into their own bank account. They are then asked to withdraw it and transfer the money to a different account, often one overseas. This allows criminals to hide or “launder” the proceeds of crime.

Most of the time, the victims don’t realise that they are talking to a criminal and helping them launder money, or that they are committing a crime. They might think they're moving money as a favour for a friend. Victims may be told that they’ll be allowed to keep some of the money for themselves as a “reward” or “thank you”. But there could be big consequences for money mules if caught, including a criminal record.

Money mules transfer stolen funds that are used to fund a range of crimes, including human trafficking and drug trafficking, fraud, and scams. The criminal groups are frequently situated abroad making any money transferred away difficult to reclaim.

How do money mule scams work?

Money muling can start in the same way as many other scams. These are intended to lure people in and provide an excuse to pass on stolen money. Often, the criminal will provide instructions to the victim which allow the laundering of illegal funds to take place, but the victim thinks they’re doing something else like sending money to a friend or into an investment.

It can often start with:

  • Employment Scams - Criminals often make false job adverts, offering a quick and easy way to make money at home.
  • Romance Scams - Prospective money mules may be contacted via social media or dating websites by money launderers posing as romantic partners. Once they’ve built up trust, they might ask the victim to hold or transfer money as a favour or due to an emergency.
  • Investment Scams - Money mules are contacted online for an investment scheme or a quick cash opportunity.
  • Impersonation fraud - To get people's bank account details, criminals may pose as bank staff, the police, or even as individuals' acquaintances or relatives. Once they can access the victims account, they can use it to launder money.

How to avoid being a victim of money mules’ scams?

  • Refuse any employment that requires you to transfer funds. No reputable business will ever request that you transfer money using your personal bank account.
  • You should never send money to claim a prize. They can be attempting to get you to move stolen money.
  • If someone you’ve met online through social media or a dating site sends you money, don't send it back. It could be a tactic to get you to transfer stolen funds.
  • Don’t share your bank account login details with people or offer to hold money for them.
  • Keep an eye on your bank statements and flag any suspicious transactions with your bank.