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20th Sep 2022

Money muling could send you to prison and you might not even realise you’re doing it

April Curtin

In partnership with NatWest

Don’t be a mule

You’ve probably never heard of it, but money muling could pretty much ruin your life, in just a few clicks of a button.

The scariest thing is that you might not even realise you are becoming a money mule until it’s too late.

So, to avoid getting caught up in such a scam, being slapped with a fine or even jail time, here is some more info about the stark reality of money muling and its consequences.

What is a money mule?

If you’ve watched Ozark, Narcos or Breaking Bad, you’ll know all about money laundering: the processing of money made through criminal means to disguise its illegal origin.

Well, money muling is basically a specific type of that.

A money mule is anybody who transfers stolen money on behalf of someone else, usually through their bank account and often earning a commission for their troubles—well, yours.

The scam normally involves criminals reaching out to people and offering them money, in exchange for letting the criminals store money in the person’s bank account. The money stays in the person’s account for any given period before being transferred elsewhere.

It sounds simple, and to some, even innocent. A lot of people don’t even realise they are committing a crime by doing this.

Why are criminals looking for money mules?

For criminals, getting a money mule makes their profits less easy to trace. Obviously, they’re keen to let someone else take the hit rather than putting themselves behind bars.

Where does the money go?

If you agree to keep the money in your bank, you’re likely looking after money that was stolen.

What’s even more sinister, is that the money is usually wrapped up in crimes such as fraud, drug dealing, sexual exploitation, human trafficking or even terrorism. 

Essentially, almost any and all horrendous activity you really don’t want to get involved with.

How do I know if somebody is trying to make me a money mule?

Money mules are often recruited on social media, where fraudsters contact them and offer them easy money for minimal effort. Some scammers even put up seemingly genuine job advertisements before asking people for their bank details.

Having said this, mules can be approached in person, adding even further pressure.

Why would somebody say yes to being a money mule anyway?

Being offered money is tempting for many people, and these criminals often target vulnerable people who are sadly desperate.

Many students, for example, have been approached, some of whom are unaware they’re committing a crime. 

Sometimes, it’s not even money that’s acting as the incentive for mules, but love. Money mules might agree to help a love interest they’ve met online or over the phone – unknowingly becoming the victim of a romance scam.

But once you become a mule, it can be hard to stop and those perpetrating the crime often attack or threaten their victims with violence when they say they don’t want to carry on.

How do money mules get caught?

Mules might be convinced that no-one will ever catch them out, but this is really not the case. Banks are able to put accounts on hold if they think unusual activity is taking place, such as huge amounts of money going into accounts with so little in them already. Activity will be automatically flagged by the bank’s fraud detection system, and the bank will get hold of the police.

What would be the consequences if I became a money mule? (Disclaimer: they’re bad…)

Quick cash might sound sweet at the time, but the consequences of money muling can stay with you for life. Not only will you have problems securing credit, applying for mortgages and loans or even taking out a phone contract, but there can be serious financial penalties too.

In addition to being potentially slapped with a large fine – the exact number depends on the level of offence – there is also a very real possibility of having your bank account closed for good.

And lastly, in case it needed reiterating any further, the worst case scenario is that on top of all the above, money mules can go to prison for up to 14 years.

So yeah, in the end, probably not worth it.

What do I do to avoid it?

Ok, so there are a lot of things you can look out for here, but the first rule is to never send or receive money or packages from people you don’t know, or have never met in person. 

It’s also important to never take a job that promises easy money, especially if it involves sending or receiving money or packages.

Don’t open a bank account when asked to do so by someone else or send money to an online love interest, and never give out your bank details to someone you don’t know or trust.

Essentially, if it seems questionable or you feel uncomfortable, stay wise and avoid doing it.

What do I do if I’ve become a money mule?

If you think you’ve been involved in a scam, try not to panic. Make sure to stop communicating with anyone who asked you to move money or property, tell your bank what has happened, and report the scam to the police.

NatWest is on a mission to stop Brits getting roped into money muling, for more information, head to the bank’s website.

Stay safe and, essentially, don’t be a mule.

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