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Why the problem of ‘money mules’ is only likely to grow

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money mules

A recent report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas revealed that young Britons are increasingly being persuaded to act as money mules for hackers and other criminals. The study highlighted a 27% rise in the number of 14 to 24-year-olds who allowed their bank accounts to be used to launder the proceeds of criminal activity last year. Throughout 2017, Cifas noted an 11% increase in the number of bank accounts that may have been used for money mule activities, suggesting that criminals are ramping up their efforts to recruit the cash-strapped to launder their ill-gotten gains. Worryingly, the number of people aged under 21 who let their bank accounts be used in this way rose by 36% in the UK last year. While there was an increase in cases of money muling across all age groups in Britain in 2017, it appears as though younger people have become a prime target for those who have dirty money to clean.

One of the biggest problems for criminals who amass large amounts of cash through their illicit activities is how to make that money appear as though it has come from a legitimate source. Over recent years, a growing number of individuals and groups with funds to launder have used the internet to recruit mules who are happy to have cash paid into their bank accounts before forwarding it on. After receiving dirty money, mules are typically either instructed to transfer it overseas, or withdraw cash and use a service such as Western Union to wire it out of the country they live in. For their trouble, they are offered a percentage of the sum they process, or a one-off fee. In some cases, mules can be offered thousands of dollars for what amounts to fewer than 30 minutes “work”.

While this can seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, the majority of mules are unaware of the punishment they could face if they are caught. On top of this, it is not uncommon for criminals to refuse to pay money to mules once they have done what is asked of them. Despite this, the Cifas data suggests the methods criminals are using to recruit money mules are working, and that warnings from law enforcement authorities about what could happen to anybody caught laundering the proceeds of crime are simply not being heard.

Criminals looking to recruit money mules often place advertisements on legitimate employment sites and classified listings services. Their ads are often worded in a way that disguises the true nature of the role they want potential mules to fulfil, and are typically intended to appeal to the economically disenfranchised, such as immigrants, the unemployed and students. A focus on the latter group is likely a key driver behind the increase in UK money mule cases involving young people. Messaging apps such as WhatsApp and social media platforms including Facebook are also used to lure young people in.

Unfortunately for those who are tempted to act as mules without knowing the gravity of the offence they might be committing, ignorance will typically not be accepted as an excuse if they are caught by the police. The likelihood of money laundering offences committed by mules being detected is high, not only on account of the fact that banks are constantly strengthening their procedures and systems to better detect suspicious activity, but also because law enforcement authorities routinely target organised criminals who seek out mules to launder their cash.

In November last year, Europol and the European Banking Federation (EBF) teamed up with police forces in 26 countries to crack down on criminal organisations that use money mules and money mules themselves. The operation resulted in 159 arrests, and the identification 766 money mules and 59 money mule organisers operating in various countries across the globe. In total, law enforcement agencies that took part in the crackdown detected illicit money transfers worth $36 million. Commenting on the success of the operation in a joint statement, Europol, Eurojust and the EBF said they would launch similar initiatives in the future as part of their efforts to fight money laundering and other financial crimes. The figures released by Cifas earlier this month suggest that these types of operations are having little impact on money mule organisers or the individuals who are willing to allow their bank accounts to be used in this way.

The disparity between the number of organisers and mules detected during the Europol-backed crackdown goes some way to explaining why. While criminals looking for mules to wash their dirty money know how to avoid being detected by police, those desperate enough to take up their offers are typically oblivious to the seriousness of what they are being asked to do. As such, cases of money muling are likely to continue to rise, resulting in individuals who would never dream of getting involved in this type of illegal activity facing the possibility of lengthy jail terms, and acquiring criminal records that could seriously alter the course of the rest of their lives.

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Major US hotel chains sued for failing to prevent sex trafficking in their rooms for decades

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US lawyers are suing 12 major hotel chains on behalf of women who claim the firms have profited from allowing sex trafficking and prostitution to take place in their properties.

In total, 13 women have accused hotel brands including Best Western and Hilton of failing to prevent sex trafficking from taking place in their rooms, alleging that the companies have made money from trafficked women and children being sexually exploited.

New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg has filed litigation in a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that brings together 13 separate lawsuits relating to hotels in a number of US cities, marking the first time the hospitality industry has faced such action.

Accusing the hotel firms of benefitting financially from the trafficking of women and children and “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking”, the suit alleges the companies have allowed sex trafficking to take place across their businesses for decades, and says it is time that they were held accountable for allowing the illicit trade to continue unchecked.

KOIN 6 News reports that one woman who claims she was forced by a pimp to sleep with as many as seven men every night is talking legal action against six hotel firms for the role they played in her abuse.

She is seeking $10 million in damages.

“Rather than taking timely and effective measures to thwart this epidemic, defendant hotels have instead chosen to ignore the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose,” the suit reads.

In a statement, Hilton Worldwide Holdings said: “Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT [formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation.”

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said: “We condemn human trafficking in any form.”

Back in January, Marriott announced that it had provided 500,000 of its staff members with training on how to spot the signs that a guest might be a victim of human trafficking, and what they should do in the event they are faced with such a scenario.

Speaking at the time, David Rodriguez, Chief Global Human Resources Officer at Marriott International, said: “Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime – and as a global hotel company that cares about human rights, we’re proud to be training hotel workers across the Marriott system to spot the signs.”

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UK charities warned to look out for social engineering spear phishing emails

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social engineering spear phishing emails

The UK’s Charity Commission has warned that scammers are impersonating charity workers via email and attempting to change employees’ bank details.

After receiving several reports of spear phishing campaigns targeting people who work at charitable organisations, the commission cautioned that fraudsters are using spoofed email addresses to pose as staff with authority to update employees’ banking information.

The fraudsters behind the social engineering scam typically write in their emails that they have changed their bank details or opened a new account.

Alan Bryce, head of development, counter fraud and cyber crime at the commission, said: “We know several charities have been targeted by this fraud and we want to ensure others are equipped to protect themselves.

“So, our message to charities is clear: read and understand our guidance on fraud, and check who’s sending an email whenever you receive a message about changes to staff bank details.”

In advice on how charities can protect themselves, the commission said organisations should review internal procedures regarding how employee details are amended and approved, and train staff not to click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails.

A report published by the commission to coincide with the UK’s Charity Fraud Awareness Week, which took place in October, revealed that over half of fraud carried out against charities is committed by perpetrators known to the organisation affected.

The study found that while over two-thirds of UK charities consider fraud to be a major risk, less than 9% offer fraud awareness training to their staff members.

More than half (58%) of charitable organisations surveyed for the study said they believe cyber crime poses a major threat to the sector.

In a separate report also published in October, the commission and the UK Fraud Advisory Panel revealed that one in every six major organisations that make up Britain’s £80 billion ($105.4 million). charity sector will be affected by cyber crime over the course of the next two years.

Twenty-two percent of charities said they believe that cyber crime is a greater risk to the sector than any other threat, with larger charities typically being more likely to appreciate the risk of cyber crime.

“This may be because larger charities generally have a greater capability to detect cyber crime,” the report concluded.

“Many small and medium sized charities are less aware of the cyber crime threat, yet are probably more at risk.”

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products worth $11 million in India as part of its global anti-fraud programme

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products

US technology giant Hewlett Packard (HP) has seized counterfeit products worth INR 80 Crores ($11.26 million) in India over the course of the past year as part of its global Anti-Counterfeiting and Fraud (ACF) programme.

Releasing information about the last 12 months of the campaign in India as part of its efforts to raise awareness of the extent of the piracy of printing supplies in the country, HP revealed that the Delhi-National Capital Region leads the nation in terms of seizure value, with confiscations worth 33.5 Crores taking place there over the past year.

Bangalore finished the year in second place with seizures of INR 22 Crores, followed by Mumbai and Chennai with 6.5 and INR 3.5 Crores, respectively.

HP worked with police across the country to carry out raids on more than 170 premises, resulting in the arrest of over 140 suspects and the seizure of completed and unfinished bogus cartridges, counterfeit packaging materials, and various sets of labels that were used during the manufacture of HP print supplies.

Noting in a statement that counterfeit print supplies can pose a significant business risk to companies that use them in the form of printer damage and associated downtime, HP said it works in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies the world over to crack down on counterfeiters that produce fake versions of its products.

Back in June, a survey commissioned by HP revealed that businesses around the world were at a greater risk of being sold fake printer supplies than ever before.

The poll, which was carried out on behalf of HP by market research firm Harris Interactive, found the availability of counterfeit printer products was being driven by an increasingly broad supplier ecosystem, a lack of certainty among buyers that their purchases were genuine, and an absence of awareness of the risks of using counterfeit goods.

The study showed that $3 billion is lost every year to counterfeit print products.

Speaking at the time, Glenn Jones, Director of HP’s ACF programme, commented: “Every one of the key market indicators we monitor show a significant increase in the risk of counterfeit print supplies.

“For companies like HP, counterfeits undermine decades of focused research and testing aimed at creating superior ink and toner, and reliable, high-quality cartridges for our customers.

“For users, fakes cause a significant increase in print failures, low page yield, poor print quality, leaks and clogs, in addition to voiding hardware warranties.”

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