Never lend your bank account in exchange for money

2 December 2020 - 7 min Reading time

The number of money mules continues to increase: this year 280 files at the Antwerp Police Zone


Criminals use money mules and their bank account to transfer stolen money. In some cases, the money mule's bank card is also used to collect the transferred money as quickly as possible. The criminals try to convince young people to help them with the promise that they will be able to earn money quickly.

  • Criminals continue to recruit young people as money mules to get their hands on stolen money. Money that is usually stolen through phishing. In exchange for their bank card and pin code, they promise young people quick money.
  • Young people could now be more tempted to accept such a proposal: corona has an impact on their finances and they are worried.
  • Police Antwerp: “In our police zone alone, there are 280 files this year. It is a shame that young people allow themselves to be seduced by this, because they often did not have a criminal record before. The criminal and financial consequences for money mules can be significant.”
  • Testimony money mule M.G.: "A bell rang when the bank blocked my account..."
  • To warn young people, Febelfin is today launching a new campaign on social media and in schools.
  • The money mule phenomenon is certainly present in schools, although young people speak about it in code language.

The money mule does the dirty work of the criminals but is left with a lot of misery. He is criminal and can be prosecuted. To warn young people, Febelfin is launching a campaign about money mules for the third year in a row. In the videos, Liandra Sadzo (LikeMe, Neighborhood Police, …) and Sophie Maréchal (La Trêve) talk about the dire consequences (only available in Dutch & French).

How does it work?


Money mule fraud follows a recognizable pattern. The potential money mule is approached online or in real life by a recruiter with the request to lend out his bank account and/or bank card and PIN in exchange for a fee. Online social media such as Instagram and WhatsApp are popular, offline, for example, it happens at the station, in the nightlife districts and in the vicinity of schools.

The recruiter tells the money mule what to do and what nice amounts others have already earned in this way. The act is described as completely safe or as a favor to a friend. And above all: as a way to make money quickly and easily.

Nothing could be further from the truth, because in reality the recruiter needs the money mule's bank account and/or bank card to transfer illegal money or to withdraw the same money in cash. Money that is usually stolen via phishing. By using the money mule's account and/or card, the criminals erase any trace of themselves.


How widespread is the phenomenon?


Stijn De Ridder, Commissioner of the Antwerp Police Zone: “It has really become a national phenomenon. To give an idea of ​​the scale: in our police zone we have already drawn up 370 reports on phishing this year. This happens as soon as a victim comes to report the crime. By way of comparison: throughout 2019 we counted 342 such PVs. This year, 280 files resulted from these declarations. There is one money mule per file, sometimes even more. Especially young people, often around the age of 20, let themselves be seduced. Minors are rather an exception.”

In these corona times we have to pay extra attention to the phenomenon. In May of this year, Febelfin and research agency Indiville conducted a survey among 1,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 30. Important result: 45% of young people are experiencing financial problems due to the corona crisis. Their student job is no longer available, they receive less pocket money, are temporarily unemployed, etc. In situations like this, the temptation to earn money quickly can become even greater.


What are the consequences?


Blinded by the fast money, a money mule often does not realize that he is participating in criminal activities. But even if it seems that he does not commit any criminal offenses himself, he is indeed responsible for what happens on his account and can be held liable for this.

Stijn De Ridder, Commissioner of the Antwerp Police Zone: “It is a shame that young people allow themselves to be seduced by such empty promises. Because many have never come into contact with the police before. There are also those other cases, in which young people try to make us believe that they are the victims. Their bank card was allegedly stolen and used without their knowledge for this kind of practice. If we then look at the transactions on their account, we quickly understand them. Consciously or not, the public prosecutor's office always asks us to draw up a report for money laundering for each money mule, because money mules help criminal money to be laundered. We have already reached 1100 such PVs this year.”

If the mule is a minor, the parents can be held liable. In practice, this means that the money mule (and its parents) will have to repay the victim in full the money that has been passed through its account. He also risks hefty court penalties and tax fines. His bank can refuse to grant him another bank account, bank card and/or loan.

In addition to the criminal and financial consequences, there is also a high risk of physical violence. The recruiters are not softies who want the best for their money mules. In practice, the nice compensation often means little or nothing. On the contrary: the money mule is often left with a plundered account.


How M.G. became a money mule


“I was looking for an extra income. Soon I saw an interesting website. They sent me an application form and I was able to get started right away. What I had to do? Buy Bitcoins with the money that came into my account. There was pressure behind it: in total I have carried out transactions for 3000 to 4000 euros.

A bell rang when the bank blocked my account… There is no trace of the scammers: they apparently pretended to be another company. Plus, they blocked me and deleted all our messages. That way I can no longer prove anything… I did file a complaint with the police. In the meantime, I myself have been interrogated. The investigation is still ongoing.”


New campaign focuses on young people


Febelfin is launching a campaign on social media together with the creative agency Hurae to raise awareness of money mules and to point out the dangers to young people. That is not only a popular channel with young people, but also one of the favorite recruiting places of the criminals. The federation of the financial sector thus builds on the successful online campaigns of the past two years.

Finally, Europol, the international police organization, also annually takes up the fight against money mule recruiters. Their annual awareness campaign EMMA 6 (European Money Mule Action) will be launched on 2 December.