It will come as no surprise at all to you to learn that I am the Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator for my little street in Cambridge – the Neighbourhood Witch, as my husband likes to call me. (Don’t worry: he pays for it in small ways, like when I “forget” to record a crucial rugby match.) Neighbourhood Watchery is not the curtain-twitching of years gone by; what we modern witches do is keep an eye on elderly neighbours, push protruding post through letterboxes so that absences are not advertised, and pass on warnings sent out by central NHW command. Usually these are along the lines of “lock your shed” and “don’t leave valuables on display near open windows”, but recently we received one entitled “Don’t Be a Money Mule”.
Those of us seasoned by years in AML will be well aware of what a money mule is, but I thought it very interesting that public information is being promoted in this way – and from the tone of the email, it’s been sent out with more than half an eye to the bright-eyed young things about to start college or university courses and being, perhaps for the first time, in proud possession of their own bank account. “Criminals advertise fake jobs in newspapers and on the internet in a number of ways, usually offering opportunities to make money quickly, in order to lure potential money mule recruits. These include: social media posts; copying genuine company’s websites to create impression of legitimacy; sending mass emails offering employment; and targeting individuals that have posted their CVs on employment websites. Students are particularly susceptible to adverts of this nature. For someone in full-time education, the opportunity for making money quickly can understandably be an attractive one. The mule will accept money into their bank account, before following further instructions on what to do with the funds. Instructions could include transferring the money into a separate specified account or withdrawing the cash and forwarding it on via money transfer service companies like Western Union or MoneyGram. The mule is generally paid a small percentage of the funds as they pass through their account.”
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I really do think that financial education – how to manage a bank account, what a mortgage is, the road to hell that is compound interest and so on – should be part of the standard school curriculum. In the same way as we warn our children about stranger danger (and now, of course, online risks) we should also warn them about financial dangers, which can be devastating in a different way. As the NHW email warns: “Money laundering is a criminal offence which can lead to prosecution and a custodial sentence. Furthermore, it can lead to the mule being unable to obtain credit in the UK and prevented from holding a bank account.”
And for financial institutions providing accounts for all these new young customers, it is a timely warning to check that those accounts function in the expected way (arrival of a lump sum from government and/or parents, followed by speedy expenditure on beer and pizzas at the start of term, dwindling to porridge at the end).