The scam Money mules 

Value and volume (Santander data January 2022 - to date)
1,877 money mules identified
Two thirds of money mules (66%) are male compared to 34% female. 
Average age: 31 - with mules aged from 14 years old. 

How the scam works
1.    Person finds out about a ‘job’ to make money quickly and effortlessly – this often happens via social media. It may be through direct contact or through an advert or a post in their social media feed. On social media, appealing hashtags are often used to entice users to find out more about the ‘job’. 
2.    The ‘job’ being advertised can range from crypto-investments opportunities to simply allowing someone access to your account. 
3.    As part of the ‘job’, the person is asked for their bank account details to receive funds. The rationale behind the deposit can range from payments being received to an investment paying out. Often each part of the ‘job’ will result in the person receiving funds into their account, so often there are multiple payments. 
4.    Once the person receives the funds, they are then asked to either withdraw or transfer the money to a different account, sometimes overseas. They are often allowed to keep some of the funds as payment. 
5.    In some cases, the fraudster may also ask for access to the person’s online banking. This enables them to send part – or all – of the funds onwards, often to multiple accounts and very quickly - so tracing the funds is difficult.

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Risk Management, Santander UK: “Free money is never free. If someone offers to compensate you for allowing money to be paid into your account – run a mile. If you receive money in this way and allow it to be withdrawn or transferred to another account, then you’re acting as a money mule and could face up to 14 years behind bars. Ignore the enticing hashtags, the image of someone living their ‘best life’ and the posts that seem too good to be true – they are.”

What to do 
•    If you are concerned that you have acted as a money mule, contact your bank and/ or the police.

How to protect yourself 
•    Be wary of accounts belonging to apparently flashy users, offering an equally glamorous lifestyle at just a drop of a hat. 
•    Fraudsters prey on your emotions, luring you in with everything from the promise of money to help with a family emergency, to a means to fund a purchase. Be on your guard. It’s not charity, it’s just another way to scam you.
•    Spotted a dodgy hashtag on social media? Report it to the site owner who will be able to shut down the hashtag and block the accounts that were using it to recruit.
•    A job that looks too good to be true probably is – so play detective and double check. Always take a look at the company’s website to ensure they exist. Fake job adverts advertising ‘mystery shoppers’ or ‘payment processing agents’, are just more ways that money launderers get hold of your bank details.
•    Fraudsters looking for money mules also operate on auction-style websites such as eBay, targeting victims by claiming they have paid twice for an item by accident and requesting that the money is transferred into a different bank account. 
•    Fraudsters don’t only prey online under the auspices of anonymous social media handles. They also recruit in person, such as waiting outside school gates offering children the promise of free food or goods in exchange for bank details. Stay alert and report any suspicions you might have.

Case study 

Mr L received a message on Instagram from someone he didn’t know offering him the opportunity to earn money working from home using cryptocurrency. Mr L confirmed that he was interested and was soon asked to share his banking credentials, so that the apparent ‘broker’ could trade in and out of his account on his behalf through several cryptocurrency platforms. He was told that each time a profit was made from a cryptocurrency investment, he would receive a fee.  

He shared his bank account credentials with the ‘broker’, enabling them access to his account. He then received a credit of £800 into his account and he was given £50 as his fee. He then received a further two credits of £1,200. His bank identified the suspicious payments, and his account was frozen. 

After an investigation by the bank, it was determined that three victims had been duped into transferring ‘deposits’ for items that they believed they were purchasing on online marketplaces. These ‘deposits’ wen into Mr L’s account, however no items were ever received by the customers.

By allowing the fraudsters to deposit money into his account, Mr L played an active role in money laundering.  

- Ends -

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

Editor’s notes:

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 2022, the bank had around 18,000 employees and serves around 14 million active customers, via a nationwide 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 over €120 billion in green financing between 2019 and 2025, as well as financially empowering more than 10 million people over the same period. At the end of the first half of 2022, Banco Santander had €1.2 trillion in total funds, 157 million customers, of which 26 million are loyal and 50 million are digital, 9,200 branches and 200,000 employees.