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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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Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants

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record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins

Police in Malaysia have seized over 27 tonnes of pangolins and their body parts from traffickers running two illicit plants dedicated to the processing of the critically-endangered animal, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

Acting after receiving intelligence, investigators first raided one facility in the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu on 7 February, before later swooping on a warehouse in Tamparuli, nearly 22 miles away from the city.

The massive haul, which is thought to be the largest ever recovered in the country, is estimated to have been worth some 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million) on the black market.

In an operation that exposed the role Sabah plays in the global illegal trade in pangolin parts, police involved in the raids recovered 1,800 boxes containing frozen pangolins, 572 individual frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in the boot of a car, and 361kgs of pangolin scales.

Police also recovered two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying foxes.

A 35-year-old man, thought to be a manager of one of the sites, was arrested following the raids, Traffic said, citing police sources.

The anti-trafficking organisation said it hoped the raids would help lead investigators to the organised criminal syndicates behind both the domestic and international illicit trade in pangolin parts.

Pangolins, which are thought to be the most trafficked mammal on the planet, are estimated to make up around a fifth of the world’s illicit trade in wildlife.

The animals’ scales are in high demand in many Asian countries, where they are used in a range of traditional medicine, while their meat is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian nations.

Many people across Asia mistakenly believe that pangolin body parts contain properties that can cure a number of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Traffic’s Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy said: “Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”

The raids come ahead of this Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, which is intended to raise awareness of how heavily the animal is trafficked.

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Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content

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protect European advertisers from online pirated content

An anti-piracy group has announced a new initiative that is intended to help European brands protect themselves from being associated with pirated content.

Advertising industry organisation the Trustworthy Accountability Group (Tag) yesterday announced Project Brand Integrity, which is intended to alert companies and their advertising agencies when their marketing material has appeared alongside pirated material online.

The new initiative, which is modelled on a similar effort launched in the US that is said to have reduced the number of impressions linked to pirated content by more than 90% over two years, will be operated by Tag in partnership with advertising auditing firm White Bullet, which will monitor and document ads on infringing sites.

After scanning ad-supported infringing sites serving markets in Europe, White Bullet’s technology will identify any ads that appear alongside pirated content, before forwarding that information to Tag, which will contact the advertiser and/or its agency so they can take remedial action.

Mike Zaneis, CEO of Tag, commented: “If you are a brand advertiser, the skull-and-crossbones isn’t just a pirate movie trope. It accurately reflects the toxic danger of associating your brand with stolen content and criminal activities on pirate sites.

“Project Brand Integrity will serve as an early warning system for advertisers and their agencies, so we can alert them when their ads have run near stolen content and help them implement effective safeguards to prevent it from happening again.

“We are delighted to work with White Bullet to jointly enable this program, while advancing the European Commission’s important work in this area.”

The new project forms part of wider drive by major advertisers and their partners to ensure online marketing material does not appear alongside content that could damage brand reputation.

Over recent years, major brands including Unilever, Mars and Verizon have pulled their ads from major video streaming platforms such as YouTube over worries that they were appearing alongside child sexual abuse material, violent drill rap videos and content relating to religious extremism.

Puling its material from various platforms over fears its ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content featuring children in November 2017, Mars said: “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.

“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

YouTube and Google have since boosted their efforts to take down or demonetise inappropriate or questionable content through fear of alienating advertisers.

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers

Two Romanian brothers who trafficked vulnerable young women into Spain and forced them into prostitution have been jailed for a total of 108 years after a court heard they inserted metal balls into their penises in a bid to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,448) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, were sentenced to 55 and 53 years respectively by a Spanish court last month.

Despite the huge amount of money the brothers and their fellow gang members were able to rake in, their victims were paid only around €200 a fortnight after being told they must work off the debt they had built up travelling to Spain.

As well as modifying their penises to cause the women they trafficked as much pain as possible, prosecutors told the court the sadistic siblings sliced one woman’s arm off with a samurai sword, and forced others to eat euro banknotes when they failed to bring in enough money while prostituting themselves.

After forcing the women to wash down the notes with water, the brothers are said to have told them they would be made to eat coins should they fail to make sufficient money in the future.

The pair made victims sell their bodies at a brothel in the northwest town of Oviedo after luring them from their home country of Romania with false promises of well-paid legitimate work.

Once the women arrived in Spain, the brothers stripped them of their travel documents and mobile phones, before beating and raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes.

While serving a previous prison sentence, the brothers sliced holes in their own penises and inserted metal balls into the holes as part of a bid to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and more painful for their partners, the court was told.

As well as being handed lengthy jail terms, the brothers were also ordered to pay their victims large amounts of compensation.

The pair’s lawyers said they both intend to appeal the length of their sentences, having initially denied all of the charges against them, maintaining that the women who accused them of wrongdoing were lying, and were only interested in extracting compensation from them.

If they had been convicted of all the charges they faced, the brothers could have been handed a total of 600 years behind bars.

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