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Dozens of young women duped into money laundering scheme at Irish music festivals

On average, there are 1,600 cases of money muling reported by Irish banks each year.

A file photo of the Electric Picnic.
A file photo of the Electric Picnic.
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

DOZENS OF YOUNG women have unwittingly been recruited by criminal gangs at musical festivals to launder money through online applications as well as through their own bank accounts, TheJournal.ie has learned.  

The “money mule” practice involves criminals recruiting people to help launder stolen or illegal money using their bank account, often unwittingly. Gardaí have said students are often targeted by the practice. 

The criminals get the money mules to use their bank accounts to lodge money. The cash is then sent to another account from the mule’s account, effectively washing the money.

Experts in the field believe that the recruiters use music festivals as a way to access bank accounts from vulnerable women, often times taking advantage of someone who is in an intoxicated state.

On average, there are 1,600 cases of money muling reported by Irish banks each year.

Head of Fraud for the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), Niamh Davenport, described how criminals are attracting young people with easy money – a lot of the time without the money mule even knowing they are committing a crime.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Davenport said: “What we are seeing more and more is people unwittingly getting involved in money laundering. There are people out there who are recruiting people from schools and from colleges. There are some people who know they are being recruited and there are those who haven’t a clue. 

“Away from actually meeting people face to face, there are quite blatant ads on Snapchat especially as well as private groups on social media pages. There are ones which say ‘earn up to €50 at home’, these kind of ones.”

Davenport explained that many people don’t even realise they have committed a crime and it is especially younger people who are being targeted. She added that the allure of easy money as well as working from home are big draws for cash-strapped college students.

“It can be as simple as doing something like a survey or research for someone and they say they’ll give you €50 to do it. So you do it and then they ‘accidentally send you €5,000′. They then say sorry, we overpaid you, can you send the remainder to this account. They might even give a bit more than the €50 as way of a thank you.

“People don’t think anything of this but what they’ve done is a crime which can carry years in prison.”

Source familiar with the investigation into money mules in Ireland explained how young teenage women are commonly targeted in person, while it is men who are usually recruited online. 

Multiple sources have told TheJournal.ie that events such as Longitude in the Marlay Park, All Together Now and the Electric Picnic were infiltrated by a number of these criminals. Some of those attempting to recruit people have come from the UK, attempted to start a romantic relationship with the young women and then asked to use their accounts.

How the money is moved

A significant amount of the money which is moved through money mules in Ireland is done using a method called invoice redirect fraud, according to Davenport. 

This scam is done when criminals send emails to businesses purporting to be one of their legitimate suppliers. These emails contain an instruction to change the bank account details that the business has for a legitimate supplier, to bank account details that ultimately benefit the criminals. These requests can also come by way of letter or phone call so caution should attach to any request of this nature.

Davenport described how if the young people allowing criminals to use their accounts knew where the cash was coming from, they would think twice before allowing access to their sensitive information. 

“A lot of this money is coming from serious criminals, many involved in child trafficking for instance or drugs. And it’s not just the big companies which are being affected by this fraud. If people knew that their local shop across the road was being hit for €5k or €10k, then they would see the price of this.” 

Cross-border and the international element

The proliferation of money mules is not just an Irish problem – it’s international.

Late last year, it emerged that gardaí conducted an operation alongside colleagues in Europol over the past three months, and identified 420 accounts in Ireland being used as “money mules” where criminals launder their money. 

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

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. 

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, report it immediately. 

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