Criminals are recruiting young people as ‘money mules’ through TikTok, Snapchat and even in person outside schools.
A money mule is someone who allows their bank account to be used to launder illegal money.
Gardaí are this morning warning college students that they could face prosecution and up to 14 years in prison if convicted of the crime.
They would also be left with a lifelong criminal record preventing them from getting foreign work visas, and could face difficulties accessing financial services including loans and mortgages.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Banking and Payments Federation Head of Financial Crime Niamh Davenport said the cost-of-living crisis has seen more people agreeing to take part in the crime.
“They hire an age group normally between 18 and 24 years of age,” she said.
“There are some as young as 15 actually but we are also, with the cost-of-living crisis, seeing an older cohort of people being tempted into it.”
Figures released this morning show that more than €12m was transferred through Irish money mule accounts in the first half of 2021.
Meanwhile, the number of accounts linked to the practice almost doubled to more than 3,000.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people just think it is an easy way to make some cash,” said Ms Davenport.
“They get a commission charge out of it - maybe €200 - so they see it as a kind of a quick cash, easy win for them.
“They don’t realise the consequences of what they’re doing. It is dirty money that is being laundered through – or money owned by innocent victims of fraud.”
Ms Davenport said younger people are well aware they are being recruited – and it often happens through Snapchat, TikTok or in person outside schools.
She said there are “severe consequences” for anyone who is caught.
“They can be imprisoned for up to 14 years and they can be fined, but there is also, especially for younger people, more lifelong consequences to understand,” she said.
“You won’t be able to apply for visas because you’ve got a criminal record – so if you want to go to the US or Australia or anywhere like that.
“Your bank accounts are closed. You are going to have difficulty accessing financial services going forward or getting loans or mortgages.
“Your career opportunities will suffer because you’re going to have to declare again that you have a criminal record.
“So obviously being arrested and going to prison is bad enough but this is going to impact the rest of your life.”
Ms Davenport said banks and Gardaí are working together effectively to catch money mules, noting that: “everything is being monitored in your bank account so we are picking it up”.
Earlier this month, 34 people were arrested after a joint Garda and Interpol investigation into the sending of fraudulent emails and money laundering.
Gardai said some of the money was laundered through Irish money mule accounts.