What exactly is a money mule? 

By definition, a money mule is a person who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. Criminals recruit money mules to help launder proceeds from online scams and frauds. They do this through clever coercion techniques to convince you that you’ll make a legitimate quick buck, or disguise the task as a job opportunity that you couldn’t possibly turndown. Beware of these scams, as you could find yourself out of pocket very quickly and in trouble with the law.  

A money mule unintentionally creates layers of distance between crime victims and criminals, which makes it harder for the Gardaí to accurately trace money trails. It’s important to know that even though you might be scammed, you will unwittingly be involved in a criminal act.  

Criminals use money mules to move funds in various ways, such as: 

  • Bank accounts 
  • Cashier’s checks 
  • Virtual currency 
  • Prepaid debit cards 
  • Money service businesses 

Currently in Ireland, up to one money mule on average is being arrested every day by fraud squad detectives investigating multiple different money laundering targets across the country. These mules are involved in highly organised ‘smishing’ or ‘vishing’ scams. Let’s delve into these types of scams in a little more detail. 

‘Smishing’ or ‘Vishing’ scams – am I a target? 

‘Smishing’ or ‘MS phishing’, is a criminal activity where text messages are used to try to defraud people, typically with links to bogus, cloned websites. ‘Vishing’ (a combination of the words Voice & Phishing) is a phone scam where fraudsters target you by phone and try to trick you into providing personal, financial or security information or into making a financial transfer to them. Last year, both Bank of Ireland and AIB customers were targeted by fraudsters who managed to insert their criminal texts into legitimate text conversations between the banks and their customers. Once the criminal has entered a pre-existing text chat, the fraudulent text will ask the customer to click on a link, usually by claiming their card or account has been frozen or that there is some other type of problem that needs quick attention. 

The customer’s account is then compromised and the fraudster can then clean it out of funds. 

Remember – never share personal information data with callers or texters claiming to be your bank, the Gardaí, or a service provider, such as your telephone company or internet provider! For more information & tips on how to avoid being the victim of ‘smishing’ or ‘vishing’, visit FraudSmart.ie. 

How do money mules affect me? 

Unfortunately, students are one of the prime targets of money mules! And this is why it’s so important for you to be aware of what to look out for, to protect your money. Often the fraudsters use students’ bank account details by offering you a fee to allow use of your account for a few days. 

Let’s take a look at a recent example – a juvenile male was arrested in the Tallaght area, who is suspected of holding money in a bank account for an international organised crime gang involved in laundering. Over €10 million of fraudulent money through Irish bank accounts! €10 million euro?! And that’s only one example! 

Fact – The vast majority of money mule incidents in Ireland in 2020 (98%) involved bank accounts belonging to those aged between 18 and 24 years of age! 

How do I keep my money safe? 

There is a number of ways you can avoid being the victim of money mules’ scams. Which include: 

  • Never give out any personal information to a caller or texter, until you have confirmation that they’re a genuine representative of the organisation they’re claiming to be calling from. 

Top tip – if you receive a call, tell the caller you will phone them back & search for the number of the organisation they’re claiming to be calling from. Make contact with the organisation directly to confirm!  

  • Fraudsters can already have basic information about you (name, address, or date of birth) – never assume a caller is genuine because they have these details. 
  • If you think you have answered a ‘vishing’ call or responded to a ‘smishing’ text message & provided your bank details, contact your bank immediately! 

What’s next? 

For more information on money mules or student fraud, visit fraudsmart.ie. Remember – anyone (especially students!) can be the target of financial fraud and scams, and at any time. Your best defence is to stay informed, alert, and secure! As the old saying goes, “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is”.   

Do you have any stories to share with your fellow students? Perhaps you have been a target of a money mule scam. Do you have some tips on how to be aware of & stay safe from these scams? Let us know on FacebookInstagram or Twitter using #MABSStudentCents. We’d love to hear your ideas. Don’t forget to follow us too at @MABSInfo for more top tips! 

MABS is funded and supported by the Citizens Information Board.