Children are being lured into online scams in such alarming numbers that schools are holding urgent assemblies to warn pupils as young as nine about the dangers.
In July, the UK’s anti-fraud agency Cifas and banking trade body UK Finance advised primary and secondary schools to hold assemblies on how to be a “money mule”.
This is where children are told that if they allow money to go into their bank account and withdraw it or send it to another account, they can keep some of it.
However, criminals simply use this ploy to launder money, making the child an unknowing accomplice to a crime.
Criminals tell children that if they allow money to go into their bank account and withdraw it or send it to another account, they can keep some of it.
The Mail can reveal that in the last two months, 307 primary and secondary schools across the UK have signed up to receive dedicated presentations designed to educate children aged nine to 14, as well as their teachers, about the risks of being target of criminal gangs. using social networks.
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat today told Money Mail 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 must do more to identify and block the recruitment of mules.
It 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 step up to better protect their users.”
Anti-fraud campaigners want to teach children about the dangers of becoming money mules before many of them are targeted. Criminals usually target teenagers and college students.
Half of students are being targeted by criminal organizations as universities welcome students back for the new academic year, according to a report by crime prevention group We Fight Fraud.
According to the study, nine out of ten young people are confident that they would be able to recognize a suspicious message and identify fraudulent recruitment.
But an undercover investigation revealed that a worrying 66% of university students contacted via social media to “earn up to £1,000 a day” responded by sharing their details and engaging with the sender, according to We Fight Fraud research.
The Mail reveals the extent to which young people are being recruited to carry out seemingly innocent banking activities for criminals.
Students as young as ten are approached on social media platforms by scammers trying to use their bank accounts to launder illegal money.
This can have devastating consequences for your future, ruining your chances of going to university or getting a job and, in the most serious cases, can lead to a prison sentence of 14 years.
Criminals use money mules to launder the proceeds of their crimes and “rinse” the money by passing it through a legitimate bank account.
This money can come from fraud or scams, drug dealing or human trafficking.
The number of young people between 14 and 18 years old who misuse their bank accounts has skyrocketed by 73% 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 mules.
“As teachers, we learn a lot about how to protect students, but financial fraud is something we see little information about,” he says.
‘Children are vulnerable and often do not understand the consequences of getting involved in activities like this.
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said technology companies must do more to prevent children from being recruited as money mules.
‘These criminals are truly selfish. They are trying to take advantage of children and trick them into becoming money mules. The consequences of this can be detrimental to the child’s future, impacting her life at home and her future education and professional work, and that is truly terrible.”
College students are also a prime target, as they tend to have clean credit histories and are on the lookout for easy ways to make extra money.
Criminals often make promises of “easy money” and “investment opportunities” when recruiting.
Nicola Harding, from We Fight Fraud and professor of criminology at Lancaster University, carried out a secret study to see how susceptible students really are.
In a survey, 95% of college students said they would not accept an approach from a social media contact. Eight in ten said they would report criminal approaches in person or online to Crimestoppers.
But in a recruiting drill, a shocking number accepted the offer and didn’t alert anyone.
Dr. Harding and her team invited students to participate in an “online focus group” about fraud, for which 30 students signed up.
What they didn’t know was that student researchers Roni and Joel had added all the 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 said: ‘Hello! Can you do me a big favor please? I got a new job and was hoping you could complete this survey. I get paid every time someone completes it and I really need the money. [to be honest]. You’ll really be helping me :).’
Dr Harding says: “We did this because scammers can 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 completed the survey and contacted the scammer.
They shared enough important information for scammers to use it against them, for example to commit identity fraud and open bank accounts in their names.
This included their name, their email address and details about who they bank with and what types of accounts they have.
The level of information they handed over so readily suggests they would be open to becoming money mules with further social engineering, says We Fight Fraud’s Tony Sales, who led the study with Dr. Harding.
The Mail’s Stop the Social Media Scammers wants tech giants to introduce stricter identity verification measures to stop scammers creating social media accounts.
According to Lloyds Bank, the most common way to contact a money mule is through Instagram.
The scammers then move the conversation to the messaging app WhatsApp, also owned by tech giant Meta.
Liz Ziegler, the bank’s director of fraud prevention, says: “Typically, the mule is instructed to transfer funds from the bank account to currency exchange platforms (which ask few questions), from where recruiters collect the cash.” .
If you are concerned that a child you know may be involved in money trafficking, please contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them, we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.