• Santander and reformed fraudster Tony Sales uncover the social media hashtags designed to lure people into becoming money mules
  • New research1 from Santander reveals that almost a quarter (23%) of adults would be tempted to click on a money mule recruitment post, while one in four (24%) under 25s admit to having previously engaged with such a post
  • One in ten Brits (10%) have been directly approached on social media by a fraudster wanting to use them as a money mule - with 18% of those confessing to have gone ahead with the transaction 

With the new academic year just around the corner, research from Santander and former fraudster Tony Sales has exposed the dangerous hashtags on social media being used by criminals to recruit innocent – and particularly young – people into becoming money mules: a crime which can result in a criminal record and even a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Money mules are people who allow criminals to use their bank accounts to transfer money associated with illegal activity often with the promise of payment in return. According to new research released by Santander, 70% of people are unaware of what a money mule actually is, underlining just how vulnerable the majority of people are to money mule recruiters.

With the number of money mules increasing by 26% in the last year alone - 49% of whom are under 25 years old2 - Santander commissioned reformed scam artist Tony Sales to investigate how criminals use hashtags to lure people in to becoming money mules. In the process of his investigation, Sales identified ten hashtags that are commonly associated with money mule recruitment.

The ten hashtags that could land you in jail:

  • #Moneyflipsuk
  • #Mflipssss
  • #Deetsandflips
  • #Deetsandflipping
  • #legitmoneyflips
  • #flipsanddeets
  • #PayPalFlip
  • #RealMoneyTransfers
  • #UkFlips
  • #EasyMoney

Santander’s research also revealed:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of people said they would engage with and click on social media posts featuring these types of ‘easy money’ hashtags, with #PayPalFlip being the most tempting of those hashtags identified. This figure rises to 27% for the under 25s, an age group particularly targeted online by money mule recruiters;
  • 15% of those polled admitted to having actually engaged with a post looking to recruit money mules, rising to 24% among under 25s;
  • 10% of Brits have been directly approached on social media by a money mule recruiter. Of those, 18% went ahead with an illegal transaction; and
  • A quarter of people (24%) either think there aren’t any punishments or don’t know what the penalties are for being a money mule.

Tony Sales, former fraudster, commented: “The hashtags used to recruit money mules act as bait and form part of a secret language used to entice people into criminal activity. That’s why it’s so important to expose these hashtags for what they are – a fast track to a criminal record.”

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Strategy at Santander, added: “It’s alarming to see not just how criminals prey on unsuspecting social media users, but how many people are unaware of what a money mule even is. It takes just a few clicks to become embroiled in this type of crime, but the consequences can have a lifelong effect.”

Tony Sales’ top tips to avoid becoming a money mule: 

  1. Glam can be a scam: Be wary of accounts belonging to apparently glitzy users, offering an equally glamorous lifestyle at just a drop of a hat. Don’t be fooled; life behind bars is anything but glam.
  2. Emotional extortion: 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 your latest trainer obsession. Be on your guard. It’s not charity, it’s just another way to scam you.
  3. Shut it down: Spotted a dubious 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.
  4. Verify the vacancy: 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.
  5. Scammer under the hammer: 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. No mistake, just another ploy to get hold of your bank details.
  6. Daylight robbery: 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.

- 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
Images of money mule posts available.

  1. Research undertaken by OnePoll on behalf of Santander UK in July 2019. The sample was 2,000 British adults who use social media.
  2. CIFAS Fraudscape 2019 https://www.cifas.org.uk/secure/contentPORT/uploads/documents/Cifas%20Fraudscape%202019%20Full%20Digital%20Report%20.pdf  

Santander UK is a financial services provider in the UK that offers a wide range of personal and commercial financial products and services. It has brought real competition to the UK, through its innovative products for retail customers and relationship banking model for UK SMEs. At 30 June 2019, the bank has around 24,000 employees. It serves around 15 million active customers, via a nationwide branch network, telephone, mobile and online banking; and 62 regional Corporate Business Centres. Santander UK is subject to the full supervision of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) in the UK. Santander UK plc customers’ eligible deposits are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK.

About Us
Banco Santander (SAN SM, STD US, BNC LN) is a leading retail and commercial bank, founded in 1857 and headquartered in Spain. It has a meaningful presence in 10 core markets in Europe and the Americas, and is the largest bank in the euro zone by market capitalization. At the end of June 2019, Banco Santander had EUR 1.03 trillion in customer funds (deposits and mutual funds), 142 million customers, 13,000 branches and 200,000 employees. Banco Santander made underlying profit of EUR 4,045 million in the first half of 2019, an increase of 2% in constant euros compared to the same period last year.

About Tony Sales
Tony Sales is one of very few people to have ever worked at both the summit of organised crime and the pinnacle of fraud and loss prevention. After a career spanning 30 years, Sales has expertise in a wide range of criminal activities covering the online and offline worlds.

Dubbed “Britain’s Greatest Fraudster” by the British media, Sales now provides advice to some of the world’s leading brands on their fraud and loss prevention strategies. He is Strategic Development Director at We Fight Fraud, an organisation addressing security risks for both business and individuals.

Sales and the work that We Fight Fraud undertakes is not just theoretical or academic. Sales’ objectives are clear, it’s all about fraud prevention and opening people’s eyes to what at first, they don’t see. Don’t for one minute believe it all takes place in the digital world.

Media Enquiries
Miranda Seymour      T: 020 7756 4189      M: 07860 857 999      E: miranda.seymour@santander.co.uk 
Deborah Lewis         T: 020 7756 4212      M: 07845 051 939      E: deborah.lewis@santander.co.uk

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