RUTHLESS fraudsters are increasingly targeting teens to launder dirty money.
And some victims do not even know they are doing it, Sun Money can reveal.
Experts are warning youngsters to be vigilant as they head off to sixth form colleges and universities with their junior or student bank accounts — which are highly sought after by criminals.
Their “clean” bank accounts, with no previous suspicious activity, are in high demand to siphon off the proceeds of Britain’s fraud epidemic, which costs victims £1billion a year.
Youngsters are typically tricked or persuaded to hand over their bank details and debit cards so cash can be transferred into their accounts then withdrawn in large sums of cash by scammers.
Fraud prevention agency Cifas said the number of cases of money “mules” aged 18 and under rose by 20 per cent, from 4,849 to 5,819, between 2017 and 2018.
Often they are lured in by the promise of a cash bonus, but in a worrying twist some young people have fallen victim without even looking to earn a few pounds.
In one case, a 15-year-old was conned into laundering cash when their friend’s Facebook account was hacked.
Paul Davis, retail fraud director at Lloyds Banking Group, revealed the scammer used the hacked Facebook account to contact the teenager and ask him to receive some money and transfer it on, as he said he could not access his own bank account at the time.
Believing he was speaking to a friend, the young man agreed and transferred the £200 cash — which the bank quickly detected as a mule transaction.
Mr Davis told Sun Money: “All of a sudden they became roped into this very serious situation where they are being told to give the money back but of course they don’t have it. In a sense they’ve been defrauded twice.
“It shows how desperate scammers are for mule accounts, which they need to perpetuate scams.”
Ashley Hart, head of fraud prevention at TSB, has also seen cases of teens being “befriended” by scammers who had asked to use their bank accounts for seemingly innocent reasons.
He said: “Someone might, for example, say they need access to their cash as their card has been damaged and they have to wait for a new one to arrive.
“Because bank fraud defences are so good and education about traditional muling activities is improving, criminals are being driven to find different ways of achieving the same end.”
In other cases kids are bullied into it. Barclays — which last year saw a 176 per cent jump in money mules aged under 16 — reported how one 16-year-old pupil’s card was stolen by other youths in a park.
He was threatened with knives to provide his PIN and personal details and warned to stay quiet otherwise he would be attacked.
A scammer then used his mobile banking to open a savings account in his name, which then received £3,000 from a victim of a scam. Other mules willingly surrender their bank details on the promise of cash — sometimes as little as £60 — without realising the consequences.
Mr Davis said a 16-year-old who had received an uncharacteristic £2,000 in his account lied about where it came from, claiming the lump sum was wages accumulated over six months.
However, it turned out that the money was from a fraud victim who had been tricked into sending it via a phishing scam, where conmen persuade people to transfer money by pretending to be a trusted organisation such as the police or a bank.
The teen was then added to the Cifas register — effectively a list of people who have been complicit in financial crime.
It means he will struggle to get a bank account for six years — the length of time he will be kept on the register.
Mr Davis said one of the highest amounts laundered in one transaction was £20,000 through an 18-year-old’s account.
Social media is the biggest driver in the increase in mules, according to Mr Hart.
Instagram has tens of thousands of listings under hashtags such as #instantcash.
Warning signs parents should look out for
- GO through the child’s bank statements with them and talk about transactions.
- Make sure they know never to reveal their PIN, passcode or password to anyone else.
- Watch out for them coming home with a new phone, clothes or other items they can’t account for.
- Be wary of unusual patterns of behaviour, such as withdrawing money from cash machines at unusual hours.
- Explain to them that letting someone else use their bank account – however plausible the reasons sound – is a potentially serious criminal offence which could land them in court.
Youths have also been sharing Snapchat posts encouraging them to become mules with slang terms such as “banging” squares, meaning debit cards.
But banks are getting more adept at spotting mules, with sophisticated software that can detect any transactions that are out of character for a customer.
Those caught face being barred from getting another account and could be prosecuted if found to be complicit in the scam.