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Cifas recently reported an economic downturn allows fraudsters to target young people, under 21, online by offering cash in exchange for laundering funds.
The fraud prevention agency Cifas reports that one in five “money mules” cases in the first half of this year involved people under 21. Over 17,000 individuals have been suspected of revealing the details of their bank accounts to fraudsters so that they could transfer illicit funds via their bank accounts in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
Increasing concern over criminal organisations’ reach has led Cifas and UK Finance to develop a joint initiative to prevent children as young as 10 from falling victim to fraud. According to Cifas executive Mike Haley, “Younger people are being targeted . . . There’s a higher cost for the criminal to persuade older people.”
Online platforms like Instagram and TikTok are the most common means of approaching individuals. The safety of social media users has been questioned over the past few years, with banks accusing social media firms of facilitating fraud. In a letter to the chancellor last week, UK Finance explained that more than half of all digital payment scams originate from websites that belong to Meta. Meta said: “We use a combination of proactive detection technology and human review to find and remove this violating content.”
Money mules have been suggested to launder the proceeds of fraudulent push payments, in which thieves trick people into sending them cash. The use of social media as a method of communication by criminal groups has become increasingly prevalent.
UK Finance’s fraud prevention manager, Paul Maskall, pointed out that platforms have become integral to everyday life. He stated, “Social media organisations have much control over [various] types of communication. We would welcome a greater degree of moderation.” In response to gangs posing fake job ads to lure young people into money laundering, Cifas, and UK Finance launched the ‘Don’t Be Fooled campaign’ two years ago.
According to Haley, banks are taking a less strident stance toward young people involved in fraud, as they believe they are less complicit in the crime. Whilst warning that individuals need to be educated about the potential consequences, he emphasised that more needs to be done. Banks must close their accounts and report fraudsters who use mules to authorities more often than they catch the fraudsters who use them.
Those participating in the study may lose access to banking services for up to six years, preventing them from obtaining loans, taking out credit, and signing phone contracts. Few people are imprisoned for acting as mules; however, those caught could face a criminal record and a possible sentence of 14 years in prison. Several charities have partnered with TikTok to improve users’ financial literacy, and users must adhere to community guidelines.