Rise of the Money Mule in IrelandJanuary 2023
It is estimated that the most prolific fraud gang in Ireland — the Black Axe crime network - a notorious West African-based criminal organisation formed in the 1970s and now operating world-wide, has stolen or laundered €64 million in Ireland in recent years. While that gang has its origins in Nigeria, it is believed that more than 4,000 people who have used Irish addresses are laundering money for the gang.
The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau’s (GNECB) long-running probe, called Operation Skein, is an ongoing investigation into fraud being committed in Ireland that includes international business email compromise (BEC), invoice redirect fraud and romance scams. The investigation also targets the laundering of the proceeds through Irish accounts.
A money mule is a person who transfers illegally obtained money between different payment accounts, very often in different countries, on behalf of others. The money mule receives stolen money into their account, then transfers it to another account, usually overseas, and keep some of the cash for themselves as ‘payment’ or withdraw the cash and pass it on to the money mule recruiter. Fraud gangs need very large numbers of bank accounts, opened into the names of other people, for their unsuspecting victims to send money to. They then quickly disperse that money over a wide network of other mule accounts.
Offers to make quick and easy money by answering seemingly legitimate job adverts or online posts, social media (i.e. Facebook posts on closed groups) and messages sent through instant messaging apps (e.g.: Whatsapp, Viber) are the most common methods of initial contact by the money mule recruiter.
Those aged 18-24 (including unemployed, students and people in economic distress being the most susceptible to the crime) and those over 55 years of age are the most commonly targeted age groups.
An Garda Síochána in association with FraudSMART, a fraud awareness initiative led by the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (‘BPFI’), are advising consumers, particularly young adults, to be alert to the risks and consequences of recruitment as “money mules”.
The warning comes as a new survey
commissioned by BPFI as part of its FraudSMART campaign for 2019 shows strong evidence of money mule activity among young people in Ireland.
The FraudSMART research also mirrors new data from BPFI’s member banks, including AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, PTSB and Ulster Bank, who collectively had more than 1,600 confirmed cases of money mule activity on customer accounts in 2018, a large proportion of which involved young account holders.
According to the FraudSMART survey more than 40% of 18-24-year-olds are likely or very likely to lodge or transfer money for someone using their own bank account in exchange for keeping some of the money for themselves.
Even if money mules may not be aware of, or be involved in, the crimes which generate the money (cybercrime, payment and online fraud, drugs, human trafficking, etc.), they are complicit and acting illegally by recklessly allowing their account to be used to launder the proceeds of crime, helping criminal syndicates move funds easily around the world and remain anonymous.
Penalties include a prison sentence of up to 14 years, a criminal conviction with a lifetime criminal record, extradition to the country where the predicate crime occurred, and not being permitted to open another bank account or secure a mortgage.
Protecting your firm from money mule fraud
It is highly advisable to have robust or review existing AML policies and procedures in place making all staff aware of the potential scams and pitfalls such as:
- Being caution of unsolicited emails or approaches over social media promising opportunities to make easy money;
- Being alive to vishing which is a tactic in which people are tricked into revealing financial or personal information to unauthorised people over the phone;
- Verifying any company that makes an unsolicited offer and check their contact details (address, landline phone number, email address and website) are correct and whether they are registered in Ireland;
- Ensuring staff are aware not to give the firm’s bank account or any other personal details to anyone unless you know and trust them;
- And lastly, be mindful of adage, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
For information about implementing AML policies and procedures in your firm or about our CPD certified training courses in AML and for MLROs, please see our training timetable below or contact us at email@example.com