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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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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road dark web marketplace

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Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0 jailed for running second iteration of Silk Road

A jobless university drop-out from the UK city of Liverpool has been jailed after being convicted of running the Silk Road 2.0 dark web marketplace while collecting indecent images of children.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Thomas White, 24, helped run the original Silk Road marketplace until it was closed down by FBI investigators in 2013.

Within a month of its shutdown, White had launched Silk Road 2.0, which like its predecessor was used by vendors to offer illicit items including drugs, weapons, cyber crime tools and stolen credit card details on the dark web.

White, who abandoned his accounting degree at Liverpool John Moores University after just one term, rented a £1,700 ($2,225)-a-month apartment on the waterfront in Liverpool city centre at the time of his arrest, despite ostensibly being unemployed.

While investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said they could not be sure how much money White made while operating Silk Road 2.0, it is estimated that illegal goods worth some $96 million were sold on the platform, on which he would take a commission of between 1% and 5%.

During a raid on White’s apartment, police discovered a laptop computer under his bed, which was found to contain 464 indecent images of children in the most serious category.

It later emerged that White had discussed setting up a hidden website on which to publish child abuse material during an online chat with a Silk Road 2.0 administrator.

Like Ross Ulbricht, who was jailed for life with no parole for running the original Silk Road marketplace in 2015, White used the online alias Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to a fictional character in the novel the Princess Bride by William Goldman.

White was sentenced to more than five years behind bars.

Speaking after he was jailed, Ian Glover from the NCA said: “White was a well-regarded member of the original Silk Road hierarchy.

“He used this to his advantage when the site was closed down.

“We believe he profited significantly from his crimes which will now be subject to a proceeds of crime investigation.”

Separately, one of Britain’s most senior cyber detectives has warned that Europeans gangs are targeting autistic gamers in the hope of turning them into the next generation of hackers.

Peter Goodman, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for cyber crime, told the Press Association that more than eight out of 10 (82%) of young people being enlisted by online criminals develop skills while gaming, with many of those targeted on the autistic spectrum.

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Customs authorities in China seize record 7.5 tonnes of ivory as wildlife crime crackdown continues

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customs authorities in China seize record 7.5 tonnes of ivory

The Chinese government yesterday announced that customs officers had seized nearly 7.5 tonnes of ivory in one of the largest such discoveries in recent years.

According to China’s customs administration, which is currently conducting a crackdown on wildlife-related crime, the elephant tusks were confiscated as a result of an operation targeting an international organised crime gang that had been involved in the illicit ivory trade for a number of years

Investigators are reported to have arrested 26 suspected members of the smuggling network behind the conspiracy after the ivory was found stored in a number of boxes that were being stored in a discussed factory in a remote town in the eastern province of Anhui last month.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, officials said the seizure was made up of 2,748 elephant tusks.

The ivory is said to have been trafficked into the country from Africa in containers labelled as carrying wood.

Addressing reporters, Deputy Director General of China Customs Hu Wei said his officers have investigated 182 cases of wildlife trafficking so far this year.

He added that these operations resulted in the disruption of 27 organised criminal networks, the arrest of 171 suspected wildlife traffickers, as well as the seizure of more than 500 tonnes of smuggled illicit wildlife products, including nearly 8.5 tonnes of ivory.

Commending the Chinese government on the seizure, TRAFFIC, and NGO that monitors wildlife crime across the globe, said in a statement: “[We congratulate] Customs on their successful enforcement actions, which send a firm signal that trafficking of endangered species will not be tolerated.

“TRAFFIC also encourages the authorities to ensure full and thorough investigations are carried out and offers its assistance in efforts to clampdown on the persistent trafficking of ivory and other endangered species, and in the longer-term goal of changing consumer behaviour and reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products.”

China, which is the largest importer of elephant tusks on the planet, banned the sale of ivory in 2017.

As in some other Asian countries, ivory remains popular in China, where it is used in traditional medicines and is seen as a status symbol.

Back in February, a Chinese woman nicknamed the “Ivory Queen” was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in Tanzania after she was convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks to her country of birth.

Yang Fenglan, then aged 69, is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million, in what was described at the time as one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa.

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Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member jailed for smuggling 2.5kgs of high-purity heroin into Australia

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Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member jailed

A flight attendant who worked for Malaysia Airlines has been jailed for more than five years after being caught attempting to smuggle packages of heroin into Australia.

In what a judge described as a “clumsily executed” operation, Fariq Aqbal Omar boarded a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne in May last year while carrying 2.5kgs of high-purity heroin.

The drugs were estimated to have a street value of more than A$3 million ($2.2 million).

After the flight on which he was travelling landed in Melbourne, large bulges visible underneath Omar’s clothing attracted the attention of customs officers.

Observing the 34-year-old Malaysian national using security cameras, border guards watched him visit a bathroom after alighting from his flight.

While using the facilities, he decanted the 10 blocks of pure heroin that had been stuffed inside his trouser pockets and underneath his vest into a suitcase, before exiting the airport terminal and boarding a transfer bus with other cabin crew members.

All of the flight attendants were then asked to return to the terminal building with their luggage to be searched, at which point Omar attempted to remove the drugs from his suitcase and return them to his pockets.

When investigators found the packages, Omar told them he believed they contained illegal tobacco, but later pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, claiming he was paid just A$500 to smuggle the heroin into Australia by a former colleague and another man.

Jailing Omar for five years and six months, Judge Wendy Wilmoth said it was incomprehensible that he had been persuaded to participate in the poorly thought-through smuggling attempt for such a small sum of money.

“Your actions have resulted in a very significant fall for you,” Australian broadcaster ABC News quotes Wilmoth as saying.

“This is something you should have considered before the importation.”

Omar will be eligible for parole after serving three years behind bars.

His lawyer, Thomas Mathew, told the New Straits Times: “Due to his limited involvement in the syndicate and minimum knowledge of its operations, our client’s role was at the very lowest of the range of the offences of this kind.

“Given his impeccable previous character, lack of prior offences in any country and the increased hardship that his imprisonment would involve due to the hardship his family are going through, the defence has sought the lowest sentence possible in the circumstances.”

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