Gardaí and banks are warning of an increase in the incidence of so-called money muling.
The industry estimates more than €12 million has been laundered using so-called money mules so far this year in as many as 1,000 incidents of the fraud.
Money muling involves people allowing their bank account to be used by criminals to have money lodged into it. It is then passed onto the criminals with the account owner being given a small portion of the funds. The funds are often sourced by fraudsters who steal from unsuspecting consumers.
A senior garda told RTÉ News that one case the force is investigating involves the theft of more than €1.5 million from customers of an Irish bank.
The victims received a text message which brought them to a cloned website, through a so-called smishing scam. Smishing is where a fraudulent text or email is sent to consumers, which links them to a website which looks identical to their bank.
Unsuspecting consumers transferred the money to the fraudsters. The ongoing investigation has already led to the arrest of more than 30 people, one of whom was just 16 years of age.
Michael Cryan from the National Economic Crime Bureau is warning parents and teenagers that the consequences of being caught acting as a money mule are very serious.
“There is a perception among young people that it is not serious, but it is very serious, there is a potential conviction for people under the money laundering and terrorism financing legislation, it carries a huge prison sentence.
“People could end up on a terrorism watchlist and it will have huge ramifications for young people in the future, opening bank accounts, getting a mortgage or even travelling abroad, it is a very very serious conviction to have on your record,” he said.
The Banking and Payments Federation says 98% of people who are targeted and used as money mules are aged between 18 and 24 years of age.
The organisation says the criminal gangs behind money muling are targeting people in schools, colleges and on social media, often presenting it as a job or even as a favour to a friend.
The industry is asking parents to speak to their children about the issue and to be observant if they are spending more money than they should have.
Olivia Buckley from the BPFI said “parents should have a conversation with their children about using their bank account, the threat of money muling and the dangers of it and the risk of criminals targeting them”.
“A real warning sign is if children have spent money on new technology, sports gear or clothing that you know they can’t afford, something like that should be a red flag for parents,” she said.
The Federation conducted research which found:

  • 36% of 18-24 year olds say they are likely to lodge or transfer money on behalf of someone else using their own bank account in exchange for keeping some of the money.
  • Over a quarter of 18-24 year olds claim to know someone who was approached to act as a money mule.
  • 44% of those surveyed had never heard of the term money mule.
  • Just 18% of parents of teenagers surveyed said they had discussed the issue of money mules and the risks with their teen.

Olivia Buckley said young people tempted to get involved to make money should remember: “If you are muling, you are involved in money laundering and if you are involved in money laundering you are involved in criminality.”