Barclays warns students about money mule recruitment

September 19th 2019

Barclays issues warning to university students, as number of under-21s recruited as money mules nearly doubles

  • New data from Barclays reveals that under-21s being recruited as money mules increased by 97% between 2016 and 2018
  • Nearly three quarters of university students don’t realise they could face jail time for acting as a money mule
  • With many victims being tricked into becoming money mules unwittingly, Barclays warns students heading back to university to be extra vigilant and aware of the risks

As students go to university or college for the first time – or return to their studies – Barclays has issued new figures indicating that the number of under-21s being recruited by criminals to launder money has nearly doubled in the past two years. University students are being actively targeted by criminals as they start the new academic year.

Whilst the overall number of mules is falling, cash-strapped students are becoming lucrative new targets for fraudsters – with the data highlighting that almost a third (30%) of all money mules reported to Barclays last year were under the age of 21.

Most victims become money mules unknowingly, as savvy criminals take advantage of university students’ financial worries. Research reveals six in 10 (61%) worry about their financial situation on a weekly basis, which is leaving students vulnerable to some of the common techniques used by fraudsters.

Using channels such as social media and messaging services, students are being lured into laundering dirty cash with fake job adverts offering easy money.

Six in 10 (57%) would be tempted to find out more about a ‘too good to be true’ job advert that offered ‘easy money with no experience’, and half (50%) would be interested in an offer of ‘free money from the comfort of your own home’.

It is the lack of understanding of the risks involved that is making students increasingly vulnerable. Seven in 10 (74%) admit to not being aware of the consequences of being caught laundering money, which could include a lengthy prison sentence, and half (50%) do not even know what a money mule is.

To help keep young people safe as they head back to university this autumn, Barclays is offering advice to avoid falling victim to this fast-growing scam: 

  • Keep control. Don’t give away any of your bank account details, unless you know and trust the person receiving them – and never let anyone else access your account. Alarmingly, nearly one in seven (14%) students have shared their PIN with someone else
  • Money for nothing? Be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money as this is a common tactic used by criminals to recruit money mules
  • Tell someone you trust. Whether it’s a parent, tutor or friend, make sure you tell someone you trust about any concerns you might have
  • Take time to think. Remember that letting someone else use your bank account is a potentially serious crime which could damage your financial future – is it worth it?
  • Too good to be true? Remember the simple rule of thumb about offers of easy money: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is

Ross Martin, Head of Digital Safety at Barclays, said: “We know criminal gangs are ruthlessly targeting cash-strapped students on campuses across the UK, with the aim of tricking them into laundering their dirty money. Worryingly, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of student money mules who unwittingly allow criminals to access their bank accounts, unaware that the money flowing in and out is often connected to serious crime.

“It is vital that all students are aware of the risks and can spot the warning signs when they think they are in danger. Providing young people with the necessary tools and knowledge can help prevent criminals from taking advantage of students in vulnerable financial situations.”

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