The number of children being used as ‘money mules’ has almost doubled in Bedfordshire over the last two years.
A money mule is someone who transfers stolen money through their own bank account on behalf of someone else and is paid for doing so. Criminals use money mules to launder the profits of their crimes.
And the number of cases involving children aged 14-18 has rocketed, from 3,360 incidents in 2016 to 4,849 last year.
Michael Williams, Bedfordshire Police cyber security advisor, said: “Our force is working closely with schools in our county to educate our youth about misusing their bank accounts.
“Young people might be tempted by promises of easy money but they don’t realise that this way they are committing a crime which can have a serious impact on their future.
“When opening an account for your children please educate them about money muling and ask them to think twice before accepting offers of easy money. And if they are in doubt to ask an adult for help.”
Parents and guardians are being urged to warn their children about the dangers of becoming a money mule, as young people are often unaware that it is illegal.
‘Mules’ are approached to take part online or in person, including through social media, at school, college or sports clubs.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “It may seem like an easy way to make some cash, but as well as being illegal, being a money mule means you will also be helping to fund serious crimes such as drug dealing and people trafficking.
“When you are caught your bank account will be closed and you will find it difficult to open an account elsewhere or get a mobile phone contract or credit in the future.
“Remember - never give your bank account details to anyone unless you know and trust them.”
To spot the tell-tale signs that someone might be involved in money muling and for tips on how to stay safe, parents and guardians are urged to follow the advice of the Don’t Be Fooled campaign:
Make sure your child doesn’t give their bank account details to anyone unless they know and trust them;
Tell them to be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money, because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is;
Look out for your child suddenly having extra cash, buying expensive new clothes or electronics with very little explanation as to how they got the money;
A young person involved in money muling may become more secretive, withdrawn or appear stressed.
Parents and guardians are advised not to attempt to contact any individual they suspect of organising money muling and should instead contact the police on 101 or through their online reporting centre.
They can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.