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Criminals are using social media to recruit Irish students as 'money mules'

Advertisements for “get rich quick” or fake jobs on Facebook are being used to dupe people, gardaí said.

8763 Garda_90560015 Det Supt Gerard Walsh, Chief Supt Pat Lordan and Keith Gross from the Banking Payments Federation of Ireland Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

YOUNG PEOPLE IN Ireland are being targeted by criminals, who convince them to allow their bank accounts to be used to illegally transfer money, gardaí have said.

Gardaí have conducted the operation alongside colleagues as Europol over the past three months, and have identified 420 accounts in Ireland being used as “money mules” where criminals launder their money. 

High-level criminals are using the bank accounts of Irish people to distribute the proceeds of crime and fraud from outside the jurisdiction, Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan said at a press conference this afternoon. 

Lordan said that current money laundering legislation has made it more difficult for criminals engaged in such activities to open Irish bank accounts, meaning that they are turning to alternative means to gain access to the proceeds of their crimes.

Tricked by the idea of easy money, people commonly targeted included people new to the State, students and the unemployed. Advertisements for “get rich quick” or fake jobs on Facebook are being used to dupe people also, gardaí said. Others are targeted as part of romance fraud, where they’ve never actually met the person they’re speaking to online.

He said that students in particular are being targeted, and may become part of these activities by agreeing to allow their accounts to be used to transfer money in and out – often in the tens of thousands of euro – for a small fee. 

Throughout Europe, 168 people across Europe have been arrested in connection with such money laundering. In all, 1,500 money mules were identified across Europe. 

In the operation conducted in Ireland since September, the 420 accounts had identified had allowed €14.6 million to pass through them in the past two to three years.

Gardaí have found that the so-called money mules they’ve discovered can be either complicit or unwitting participants in the money laundering, and Detective Superintendent Gerard Walsh warned that people found guilty of money laundering can face up to 14 years in jail.

The advice from gardaí is – if you have received money into your account that you suspect to be from a criminal network – to report it immediately. 

“You can’t really say you didn’t know,” gardaí said. 

During the three-month operation, gardaí also identified five “herders” operating in Ireland. The herders are responsible for recruiting the money mules, and go onto student campuses and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to recruit people. 

Of the mule accounts identified since September, gardaí said there were 165 victims of crime where the money came from – and came from outside Ireland. 

They’ve interviewed 30 people in relation to the incidents, and carried out 15 searches. 

Lordan said that over the course of their investigations, gardaí expect to make a number of arrests in the coming months. The network that gardaí targeted in this operation is now “defunct”.

“We need to get young people aware of this issue,” he added. “If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. The earlier this is reported to us, the better.

It helps us to put [the criminals] out of business. [The money] is no good to them if they can’t get it out of the system.

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Sean Murray

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