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'online fraud' Children as young as 15 being used by organised criminal gangs to act as ‘money mules’

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Children as young as 15 are being used by organised criminal gangs to act as ‘money mules’ to launder the proceeds of online fraud through their ‘clean’ bank accounts, gardaí have revealed.

Secondary school and college students are being lured into the practice of having money moved through their accounts for a tempting commission but are destroying their futures when they are caught, gardai warned.

A money mule is someone who allows others to use their bank accounts. The accounts are used to receive or disburse fraudulent or illegally obtained funds, most likely from online fraud and other cyber crime.

The gangs like to use young people with no criminal records because they have no previous interaction with gardai and the gangs feel it lessens their chances of being traced.

Students are contacted by messaging apps and social media, or by word of mouth.

And while some are complicit and aware the money is the proceeds of criminal activity, there are naive young people recruited unwittingly in a too good to be true earning opportunities via recruitment websites with job offers of ‘financial manager’ or ‘money transfer agent’.

“A money mule can also be coerced against their will, either bullied or threatened, or they could be paying off a drug debt or think they are helping a ‘friend’ who can’t access a bank account,” said Detective Superintendent Mick Cryan of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB).

Speaking as part of the bureau’s Fraud Awareness Week, he said one ongoing investigation has identified 53 people acted as money mules where €1.5m was transferred through their accounts.

“Thirty-two have been arrested to date, 17 are juveniles, 20 are males average ranging from 16 to 38 years, and 12 are females, ranging 15 to 22 years,” he said.

Det Dupt Cryan warned the young money mules are destroying their futures when they are caught.

He also warned the proceeds of the crimes these young people are acting as agents for are used for international crimes including drug distribution and people smuggling.

The Advice from the GNECB, particularly for parents, guardians, and teachers is to recognise money muling this for what it is and advise on the dangers and ramifications.

“By working together and reducing numbers prepared to act as money mules then we seriously reduce organised crimes capacity,” said Det Supt Cryan.

“Parents and teachers need to know how serious this is and the ramifications for the children, and to educate their children not to act as money mules.”

“Teachers need to be alert to the people in their classes recruiting money mules, and students need to know how they will destroy their future if they act as a money mule,” he added.

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