Young people under the age of 21 account for around one in five cases where money muling activity is suspected, according to new figures.
Banking and finance industry trade association UK Finance and fraud prevention body Cifas released the data, covering the first half of 2023.
Some 23% of cases on the Cifas national fraud database with intelligence indicating money mule behaviour involved under-21s.
Younger adults up to the age of 30 accounted for nearly two-thirds (64%) of cases indicating money mule activity.
A money mule is someone who receives illicit money into their bank account and transfers it into another account, often in return for cash or an expensive gift.
A money mule is someone who lets someone else use their bank account to send money, keeping a little bit for themselves. It’s a crime.
— Action Fraud (@actionfrauduk) November 3, 2022
Criminals need money mules to launder the profits of their crimes and frequently target young people, who are often unaware of the consequences, which could include a criminal record.
Such activity can also lead to someone having their account closed and finding it difficult to obtain mobile phone contracts or access financial products and credit, including student loans.
The Don’t Be Fooled campaign, a partnership between UK Finance and Cifas, has developed free PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) resources for schools, to educate pupils about the dangers and consequences of becoming a money mule.
The new schools programme is aimed at primary (aged 10 to 11) and secondary (aged 11 to 14) pupils. The programme includes lesson plans and assembly presentations, alongside posters, flyers and other material for schools to use.
Ben Donaldson, managing director, economic crime, UK Finance, said: “Our Don’t Be Fooled campaign helps schools to teach children about the dangers posed by this type of criminal activity, and how to keep their bank accounts safe in the future.
“Parents and guardians have an important role to play, too. Don’t Be Fooled has advice on how to help their kids stay safe, including never giving your bank details to anyone unless you really know and trust them.”
Cifas chief executive Mike Haley said: “Being asked to transfer funds from your bank account might sound harmless, but this is money laundering and therefore illegal.
“This can have serious consequences for those involved, especially youngsters who could find their bank account closed and have difficulty accessing credit or loans. It could even impact their future education and job opportunities.
“Young people need to think carefully before allowing their accounts to be used to transfer money, and ask themselves whether it is really worth jeopardising their future opportunities and career just to earn some easy cash?”
Tell-tale signs that someone might be involved in money muling could be them suddenly having extra cash, buying expensive new clothes, or having top-of-the-range mobile phones and gadgets with very little explanation as to how they got the money. They may also become more secretive, withdrawn or appear stressed.
The campaign urges parents or guardians to make sure their child does not give their bank account details to anyone unless they know and trust them.
They should also tell children to be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money, because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Parents and guardians are being advised not to attempt to contact anyone they suspect of organising money muling and to instead contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.