Money laundering warning with over half of money mule accounts held by under 30s

  • Santander UK warns about the risk of becoming a ‘money mule’ as new data shows young people are targeted by criminals. Money mules are part of the money laundering process and can help funnel funds to organised crime.
  •  It is a criminal offence to allow your bank account to be used in this way and can result in fines, a possible prison sentence of up to 14 years, and difficulty in getting a bank account in the future
  • Data also shows one in five money mule accounts held by under 20s and under 20s also accounted for more money mule activity than everyone aged 50 and over.

The scam: A money mule is someone who lets a criminal use their bank account to move money. Criminals use money mules to move stolen money to avoid being detected. They target people with fake job adverts or friendships to trick them into allowing account usage and there’s often a cash incentive. Money mules are part of the money laundering process and can help funnel the proceeds of fraud and scams into organised crime. 

Volume (Santander data): New Santander data covering the 12 month period between September 2022 and August 2023 shows it is overwhelmingly young people who are being lured into acting as money mules. 

Santander data shows:

  • Over a fifth (21%) of money mule accounts were held in accounts by people aged under 20. 
  • People aged 19 and under accounted for more money mule accounts (21%) than everybody aged 50 and over combined (9%).The other age groups with the most money mule accounts were 20-25 year olds (19%) and 25-30 year olds (15%). People aged 30 and under account hold more than half (55%) of all money mule accounts.
  • Under 1% of money mule accounts were held by people aged 70 and over, while people aged between 60 to 70 accounted for just 2%.

Dave Lowe, Head of Fraud, at Santander said: “Criminals are targeting younger people to help them illegally move money between accounts and it is vital everyone remains guarded against suspicious job adverts or messages asking them to move money through their bank account.

“Money laundering is a serious crime and can have lifechanging consequences; from future difficulties opening bank accounts to criminal prosecution. It is also not a victimless crime, with the funds often being used to support organised crime. 

“Santander has robust security measures in place to identify unusual activity and investigate suspected money mule accounts, including working with law enforcement partners when necessary.”

Money mules - how it works: 

Criminals make contact with their victim through social media, through mutual friends, or face to face. Some of their tactics include:

  • Impersonating friends or family on social media, telling you their account is blocked and they need your help to send money to a friend. They’ll avoid voice calls, saying they’re busy or that their phone isn’t working.
  • The credits into your account may come from other people, but their ‘friend’ will give a good excuse why. They’ll say there is some extra money for you as a thank you.
  • You’re then asked to send the money onto another bank account. You may think you’re simply helping a friend, but what you’ve really done is allow stolen money into your account and then moved it on. This is money laundering, which is a serious crime.

What can happen to a money mule?

  • If you’re a money mule, you might have your bank account blocked or closed. Any money that was given to you as part of this, will need to be paid back. You could also: 
  • Find it hard to open another bank account;
  • Be threatened by the criminals to continue helping them, even if you don’t want to;
  • Struggle to get a loan or mobile phone contract;
  • Be liable for the full amount of the money that was paid into your account;
  • Face criminal prosecution

How to protect yourself 

Watch out for:

  • A ‘friend’ asking if they can send some money to you and then asking you to send it on to someone else or give them the cash. Sometimes they might say their own account is blocked.
  • Job adverts that involve using your own account to receive and send money. You may be offered some of the money as a commission or thank you.
  • Being offered money for someone to use your bank account.

- Ends -

The information contained in our press releases is intended solely for journalists and should not be used by consumers to make financial decisions.

Notes to Editors

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. At 30 June 2023, the bank had around 19,400 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, 7 million digital customers via a nationwide 445 branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the FCA and the PRA in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the FSCS in the UK.

Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in the Europe, North America and South America regions, and is one of the largest banks in the world by market capitalization. Santander aims to be the best open financial services platform providing services to individuals, SMEs, corporates, financial institutions and governments. The bank’s purpose is to help people and businesses prosper in a simple, personal and fair way. Santander is building a more responsible bank and has made a number of commitments to support this objective, including raising €220 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2030. In the first half of 2023, Banco Santander had €1.25 trillion in total funds, 164 million customers, 9,000 branches and 212,000 employees.