Sadly, scammers are stepping up their techniques and tactics to target unsuspecting victims. But there is one type of scam which could see victims seriously affected themselves: money muling.
These people use their bank account to receive criminal cash, either intentionally or without their knowledge.
However, it is often money stolen through a scam and could come with a serious punishment.
Lloyds shared the story of Molly*, who received an unusual phone call from her friend Linda**, asking for help.
Linda had been contacted by a supposed Amazon representative, saying she was due a refund of £10,000 on some purchases.
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The caller said all Linda would need to do is download some software to one of her mobile or tablet devices for the refund to be processed.
Eager to secure her refund, Linda took the steps as directed by the caller, and soon enough the caller was able to remotely access her device, and get Linda to help with accessing her online banking.
When £10,000 appeared in her account, Linda was thrilled, but the caller said there was an issue and the payment would need to be rerouted to a few other accounts for it to be processed.
This is where Molly came into the equation for the first time.
The caller explained all Linda would have to do is to call Molly and tell her she’d been experiencing an “online banking problem”.
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Then Linda would need to give Molly the details of a third account to move the £10,000 to.
Molly, who wanted to help her friend, agreed and when the money arrived, she said she would make the transfer.
However, she was unable to do so, as the bank saw the red flags of these transactions.
It was identified Linda and Molly were being used as money mules without their knowledge – and the payment was blocked from going any further.
The caller, who claimed to be reputable, was in fact a fraudster trying to hide the proceeds of crime through layering and integration into the financial system.
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Linda and Molly were simply unwitting victims, and were later reported to the relevant authorities.
However, Lloyds has warned even those unaware of the fact they are moving stolen funds could face the full force of the law.
Their website explained: “If caught moving stolen funds, money mules will be left with no bank account, a damaged credit score and the inability to apply for a loan or even a phone contract in the future.
“They could also end up with a 14 year prison sentence for the crime.”
Research from the bank has shown fewer than half of those asked realise being asked to move money through their account on behalf of someone else could be the sign of a scam.
Since 2018, the bank has seized more than £91million from mule accounts.
Money mules can be recruited in a myriad of ways, including through social media posts, fake job adverts or targeted emails.
As a result, it is vital for Britons to remain on guard and take active steps to protect themselves from being targeted.
Liz Ziegler, consumer fraud and financial crime director at Lloyds, said: “Many of the money mules we’ve caught had no idea they were engaging in criminal activity.
“The promise of quick and easy cash was enough to tempt them into moving money through their bank account in exchange for a fee or a cut of the funds.
“But behind all of these apparent get-rich-quick schemes are organised criminal gangs, desperate to launder the cash they’ve stolen, often from innocent scam victims. That’s why the penalties for becoming a money mule are so severe and can include a prison sentence.
“It’s vital that people are aware of the warning signs and don’t get sucked into deals which look too good to be true.
“No legitimate company will ever ask you to use your own bank account to transfer their money, and the risk of getting caught is just too great.”
*, ** – Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.