Children are being caught up in online scams at such alarming rates that schools are holding urgent assemblies to warn students as young as nine of the dangers.
In July, UK anti-fraud agency Cifas and banking and trade body UK Finance recommended primary and secondary schools hold “money mule” assemblies.
Here children are told that if they have money deposited into their bank account and have it paid out or transferred to another account, they can keep a share for themselves.
However, fraudsters only use this trick to launder money, thereby unknowingly making the child an accomplice in a crime.
Children are told by criminals that if they allow money to be deposited into their bank account and then cash it out or transfer it to another account, they can keep a share for themselves
In the last two months, 307 schools across the UK have signed up to courses for children aged nine to 14 and their teachers on the risks of being targeted by criminal gangs via social media .
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat told Money Mail today that social media platforms are making it easier than ever for criminals to target children.
Tugendhat, who supports our Stop the Social Media Scammers campaign to force tech companies to better protect users, says providers need to do more to identify and block mule recruitment.
He says: “Social media makes advertising cheap and easy, turning apps like Instagram and Snapchat into a rich hunting ground for criminals to identify and recruit money mules.”
“It’s time for social media giants to better protect their users.”
Scammers want to educate children about the dangers of becoming a money mule before many of them are targeted. Criminals typically target teenagers and university students.
Half of students are being targeted by criminal organizations as universities welcome students for the new academic year, according to a report by crime prevention group We Fight Fraud.
According to the study, nine out of 10 teens are confident they can recognize a suspicious message and detect a fraudulent recruitment.
But a worrying 66 per cent of university students approached via social media to “earn up to £1,000 a day” responded by sharing their details and contacting the sender, according to We Fight Fraud research.
Students as young as ten are being approached on social media platforms by fraudsters who are trying to launder illegal money using their bank accounts.
This can have devastating consequences for their future, ruining their chances of studying or getting a job – and in the worst case, leading to a 14-year prison sentence.
Criminals use money mules to launder the proceeds of their crimes and “fluster” the money by routing it through a legitimate bank account.
This money can come from fraud, drug trafficking or human trafficking.
The number of 14 to 18 year olds misusing their bank accounts has increased by 73 percent in the last two years, warns Cifas.
Ria Nelson, deputy headteacher at St Frideswide Primary School in Oxford, warns there is a real risk of children being contacted and recruited as money couriers.
“As teachers, we learn a lot about protecting students, but we receive very little information about financial fraud,” she says.
“Children are vulnerable and often do not understand the consequences of engaging in such an activity.”
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said tech companies needed to do more to prevent children being recruited as money collectors
“These criminals are really selfish.” They try to exploit children and trick them into becoming money mules. The consequences of this can be detrimental to the child’s future, affecting their home life and their future education and professional work, and that is truly terrible.”
University students are also a prime target as they typically have clean credit records and are looking for easy ways to make extra money.
Criminals typically promise “easy money” and “cash flipping opportunities” when recruiting.
Nicola Harding from We Fight Fraud and criminology professor at Lancaster University conducted a secret study to find out how vulnerable students really are.
In a survey, 95 percent of the university’s students said that they would not accept contact from a social media contact. Eight in ten respondents said they would report criminals’ personal or online contacts to Crimestoppers.
But in a mock recruitment exercise, a shockingly high number of applicants signed up for the offer without notifying anyone.
Dr. Harding and her team invited students to participate in an “online focus group” on fraud, for which 30 students signed up.
What they didn’t know: Student researchers Roni and Joel had added all participants on the social media platforms Instagram and Snapchat.
After a cooling-off period to avoid suspicion, the researchers sent an initial message to each participant asking them to complete a survey.
It read: “Hii! Can you please do me a big favor? I got a new job and was hoping you could take this survey. I get paid every time someone participates and honestly I really need the money [to be honest]. You will really help me :).’
Dr. Harding says: “We did this because scammers may recruit young people to find other mules, but they can also create fake duplicate accounts and add friends of the real account holder.”
Within 24 hours, 20 of the 30 students had completed the survey and engaged with the scammer.
They shared enough important information that fraudsters could use it against them, for example to commit identity fraud and open bank accounts in their name.
This included their name, email address and information about who they bank with and what types of accounts they hold.
The amount of information they were so willing to share suggests they were willing to become money mules with further social engineering, says Tony Sales of We Fight Fraud, who co-authored the study with Dr. Harding directed.
The Mail’s Stop the Social Media Scammers calls for tech giants to introduce stricter identity verification measures to stop fraudsters setting up social media accounts.
According to Lloyds Bank, the most common way a money mule is contacted is via Instagram.
The fraudsters then move the conversation to the messaging app WhatsApp – also owned by the technology giant Meta.
Liz Ziegler, director of fraud prevention at the bank, says: “Usually the mule is instructed to transfer funds from the bank account to foreign exchange platforms (which ask few questions) from which the recruiters collect the funds.”
If you are concerned that a child you know may be involved in money laundering, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click, we may receive a small commission. This helps us finance This Is Money and keep it free to use. We don’t write articles to promote products. We will not allow a commercial relationship to compromise our editorial independence.