Money mules: moving money for criminals

23 June 2023

7 min read

Criminals don’t want to get caught. So they use other people to help them disguise the profits of their crimes. This process is known as money laundering, and the people doing it for the criminals are known as money mules.

Why is being a money mule a problem?

Acting as a money mule is a criminal offence and can lead to:

  • A poor credit rating
  • Your bank account being closed, and problems opening bank accounts in the future
  • A criminal record, and up to 14 years in prison.

Some people act as money mules knowingly, but many are innocent and unaware of where the money comes from or where it’s going. Money laundered this way is used to facilitate:

  • Fraud and scams
  • Drug smuggling, human trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Terrorism.

How does being a money mule work?

Criminals ask money mules to receive criminal funds into their bank account, and then move it on to another account. This is why they’re called money mules, because they help move the money to a safer place. The criminals will often have the money moved several times, to help disguise where it came from initially.

How do people become money mules?

Criminals who manage money mules are known as ‘mule herders’. They may approach you in person, but generally message you online, through text messages, apps or social media.

They use many different tactics to try to trick you into moving their money, such as pretending to be:

  • An employer offering you a job with high pay – often hundreds of pounds per hour
  • An online friend or love interest – romance scammers may ask for your help
  • Someone else who needs your help to move money as they can’t use their own bank account
  • Someone who has accidentally sent you money or too much money – they may claim these are overpaid wages, or overpaid returns on an investment

They may also ask you directly to be a money mule, and offer you money.

What are the warning signs of money laundering?

You can protect yourself from criminals and avoid falling for their tricks. Things you should look out for include:

  • Unexpected contact from someone you don’t know who is trying to befriend you via email, messaging apps or social media.
  • Someone you’ve met online, who makes excuses as to why they need you to move on money they send you
  • Job offers for quick and easy money, with no experience necessary
  • Someone who wants to buy a valuable item from you and insists on paying by bank transfer - it's safer to use the official payment methods of trusted platforms
  • Someone who offers to pay you to open a bank account in your name, and let them use it.

To protect yourself, remember to:

  • Research all job offers and only use trusted recruitment sites
  • Be wary of job offers job offers where everything is done online, especially if you never speak to anyone on the phone or in person
  • Avoid applying for jobs that are advertised through unexpected emails, texts, or messages in apps
  • Contact your bank if you receive large sums of money you weren’t expecting
  • Never agree to open an account in your name for someone else to use
  • Never agree to receive money into your account and then move it on, especially if you don’t know and trust the person, or you don’t know where the money has come from.

    What does being a money mule look like?

    Criminals are master manipulators, and use many different tactics to launder the proceeds of their crimes. You can read stories from former money mules. 

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