Due to the cost-of-living crisis, children as young as 14 are being employed by criminal gangs as "money mules."
Police have noticed "a surge" in the number of young people who permit criminals to use their bank accounts in one of the EU countries that Interpol has targeted due to its usage by the West African "Black Axe" cybercrime gang.
A significant operation against Black Axe has been carried out by Irish police, leading to several arrests, the seizure of cash and high-end automobiles.
An Garda Siochana (AGS), the national police, has now stated that there are now over 3,000 accounts in the Republic that have been linked to money mules, more than doubling in the first half of the year. They claimed to have deposited €12 million from frauds.
According to intelligence from Irish banks, the average transaction amount made by a mule in the first half of this year was €4,000 and was the result of a variety of online, call-based, and text-based frauds.
Significantly, young persons between the ages of 18 and 24 controlled the bulk of these accounts or had created them particularly for muling.
Unsettlingly, some of those found this year concealing money for criminals were as young as 14.
In response to pressures from inflation and increases in the cost of living this year, police informed The Irish Times newspaper that an increasing number of individuals had become financially vulnerable. "As a result, they are more susceptible to allowing their accounts to be used by criminals in exchange for payment. Senior Garda officers are now concerned the problem will become even more acute as winter progresses and more people suffer increased financial hardship," according to the paper.
The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), a trade group, has started a public awareness campaign to warn consumers against accepting promises of "quick and easy cash" in return for the use of their bank account.
Niamh Davenport, the organization's head of financial crime, claimed that such payments were being made "in exchange for something which appears as simple" as allowing criminals to use their account to move or deposit money or creating a new account for those criminals.
Ms. Davenport said, "People can be conned unknowingly or coerced into working with fraudsters through social media posts, seemingly legitimate job adverts or even be approached directly in person."
The organization is emphasizing the consequences young people should expect if they are found, such as having their accounts closed and then being refused access to basic financial services on the basis that they were high risk. Furthermore, obtaining visas to travel or work in nations like Australia or the United States—both of which are preferred employment destinations for young Irish people—would be necessary if one were found guilty of money laundering or supporting a criminal group.
In recent years, the Black Axe gang is thought to have stolen or laundered €64 million in Ireland. "While that gang has its origins in Nigeria, it has members in Ireland running a large network of mules," according to the Irish Times.
When receiving unsolicited emails or contacts "promising opportunities to make easy money, especially on social media," the BPFI has advised consumers to be "very cautious." People have been advised to "thoroughly research" any occupations that are being marketed as "working from home opportunities."
People should never enable a third party to use their account to effectuate a deposit, transfer, or withdrawal unless they know and trust the person making the request, the statement continued.
For their gullible victims to pay money to, fraud groups require a huge number of bank accounts made in other people's names. They then swiftly distribute that cash throughout a large network of other mule accounts.
To other mule accounts overseas, that money might be transferred. In other instances, before the frauds are discovered and the gardaí have time to freeze the stolen money in the maze of mule accounts used to transport it, the money is withdrawn by mules in Ireland and given to gang members.
By fLEXI tEAM