Pulling the reins on money muling

European banks and finance institutions helped investigate more than 7,500 fraudulent money mule transfers in the latest international efforts to crack down money mule schemes, Europol reports. This prevented a total loss of €12.9 million and resulted in the arrest of 228 money mule recruiters.

Mule accounts are used in money laundering to conceal illicit funds and their origins. The term was originally coined in drug trade, where couriers who smuggle drugs on or even inside their own body are called mules.

“If banks were given the permission to exchange information on mule accounts, we would have more control over them. A bank could then quickly warn other banks if it detects suspicious transactions”, says Risto Karhunen, head of security and loss prevention at Finance Finland.

Money mule recruiters may approach their target by e-mail, instant messaging or on social media. They will often offer a job they claim guarantees easy money with little effort. The people typically targeted by recruiters are young, have recently moved into the country, or are in financial distress.

And who wouldn’t be tempted by a job where the only requirement is to sit at home, letting cash flow from one contact to another through your account? Money rolls by and the mule gets a small provision of each transaction.

“Giving criminals access to your bank account makes you an accomplice to money laundering. The individual sums can be relatively small but before you know it, you’re already in the territory of aggravated money laundering”, Karhunen points out.

The mules’ employers are usually involved in organised crime and also responsible for drug and human trafficking. Refusing to continue working for them may lead to threats or physical violence, which makes getting away difficult once you start. Working as a money mule will carry legal repercussions and may also have other, long-standing consequences: your bank account can be closed, and you may no longer be eligible for any form of credit.

Sometimes the owner of a mule account is not even aware they are taken advantage of. The criminals may have gained access to the account holder’s information, for example with a phishing message. If you suspect your bank account may have fallen into the wrong hands, you must immediately notify your bank and the local police.

Finance Finland participates in Europol’s campaign that spreads public awareness on the dangers of money muling.

Europol’s press release

#dontbeaMule – Europol’s public awareness campaign