The Young Ones
For the benefit of any lawyers reading this, I think it best to point out that this is not a Cliff Richard reference! When people think of fraud, they often conjure up a vision of the type of person who is most likely to be a victim; for example, the elderly are typical victims of scams that relate to confusing them or pressurising them into buying certain products, and the lonely are typical victims of romance scams. One particular demographic that falls victim to scams that are massively underreported, are the young. By that, I mean either children from about 12 years and upwards, and young adults up to about 21 years of age. I’m describing them as ‘victims’ although in truth, their role as willing accomplices on occasions cannot be ignored.
Using young adults as ‘Money Mules’ is a burgeoning business; and like all good 'businesses' it involves a hierarchical structure in relation to who-does-what. The bottom-feeders are those involved in persuading victims to allow their accounts to be used, the middlemen are those who coordinate the activities and the people who make the real money are (just like CEOs) rarely seen.
One of the guys I know was one of the middlemen and we will call him ‘Steve’. I don’t actually know his real name, I just hope for my own sake he is actually called something else! He doesn’t only do this type of scam, it’s merely another string to his bow or if you like, another line on his CV as an accomplished fraudster. Steve runs a team of 4 or 5 ‘Fraud Boys’ or 'F-Boys' in street slang - although one of them is actually a girl. She is a bit different (other than just being female) inasmuch as she started as a ‘mule’ but progressed up the career ladder having seen the money to be made. All of the Fraud Boys are experts in all of the Social Media sites and have multiple profiles on each of them. If things get weird, they simply close them down and activate a new one.
They use social media sites to tempt their victims with the prospect of earning lots of money by claiming they can do this for very little effort and virtually no risk. Some do briefly earn a reasonable amount of money for little effort, however, in reality, the risk is huge. The F Boy will typically identify someone who is in need of cash (show me a teenager who isn’t!) and tempt them with the possibility of earning £1,000 in cash for 15 minutes work. They tell them that if they give the Fraud Boy their bank details, £5,000 will be paid into their account within the next 24 hours. All they need to do is go into the branch and withdraw it. The sum varies according to how much different banks are willing to pay out per day, and often an ‘odd amount’ is transferred into the account to assist in dispelling any suspicion by the bank; so £5,000 might actually be £5,014.33.
The mule goes into the bank, withdraws the cash and is met close by (to avoid any temptation for the mule to make a run for it) by Steve and the money is handed over. The ‘commission’ is normally between 10-20% and that is handed back to the mule. It works well and whilst almost completely under the general public’s radar, it is common knowledge amongst many teenagers, especially those at university. Unsurprisingly, the Fraud Boys have developed their own slang when grooming potential accomplices on social media. Bank cards are known as ‘squares’ and each bank has a nickname, Lloyds is ‘Lolly’, Barclays is ‘Barks’ and NatWest is ‘Natty’ etc. The amount to be deposited into the accomplice’s account is known as ‘the drop’ and the commission is known as ‘kick’ or ‘cut’
Every success breeds more and more mules as the accomplices tell their friends how easy it was and how much they earned. Given the choice would they rather stack supermarket shelves for the minimum wage (whilst eating into their drinking time in the Student's Union bar) or do something a bit dodgy with no real risk of being caught. It’s a no-brainer. At least it is until it goes wrong.
James was a mule who had successfully withdrawn in excess of £20,000 from two different bank accounts over a period of six months and had been rewarded with £3,000 in cash. He was in his second year at university studying Criminology (who said irony was dead?) and loved a pint, girls and the occasional bit of weed. He was confident and far from stupid and whilst he had never asked where the money was coming from or going to, he knew it must be illegal in some way or another.
His downfall was completely unexpected - to him at least! he walked into his own branch of Lloyds and asked to withdraw £3,010 and was asked by the cashier the reason for the withdrawal. As mentally rehearsed, he said he was buying a second hand car and the extra £10 was to buy 4 tickets for the Euromillions draw. This was the first time he had been challenged and while he tried to maintain calm, he was inwardly crapping himself. All of a sudden, this became very real. The cashier disappeared for a couple of minutes, much to the disgust of the queue behind James, and then returned. James was asked to go into a side office where a manager wanted to speak with him. James made to walk to the office then turned sharp right and walked briskly out of the bank.
Steve watched him leave from a coffee shop opposite and saw him walk away up the high street, which was not the agreed plan. Steve followed at a safe distance, watching for any plain clothes cops who might be following James from the bank. Perhaps a bit paranoid, but better to be safe than sorry. Satisfied he wasn’t being followed Steve grabbed hold of James by a bus stop, who by this time was a jabbering wreck. Steve calmed him down and made him talk through what had happened in the bank. Steve explained in a very businesslike manner that James now owed his boss £3,010 and this needed to be repaid by the end of the week. When James protested and argued that it was him who was in trouble and he should not be penalised, Steve simply repeated his demand but added that a failure to make payment would result in a broken leg or arm, or both. James borrowed the money from a loan shark at a ridiculous interest rate the very next day.
James also found out that his account had been frozen, which resulted in him being unable to access his Student Loan and a flag added to his account which means he can’t open another bank account for the next six years. Imagine the fun he will have when in later life he applies for a credit card, bank loan, mortgage etc……..