Business

The 'money mules' of East London

Street in Newham in East London
Image caption Lots of migrant workers make Newham a target for the fraudsters

Part of East London has been identified as a hotspot for a form of money laundering using so-called money mules.

The London borough of Newham has more of them than any other part of the UK.

The money mules are people who allow their bank accounts to be used by fraudsters to transfer illicit gains out of the UK.

Banks have been tracking 1,582 suspicious accounts in Newham, compared with 573 in Manchester and 89 in Nottingham.

The area appears to have been targeted because it has a high population of East European migrant workers.

Often the money comes from online banking frauds, especially phishing scams when criminals obtain a victim's bank details by sending out fake emails.

Then the money is moved using the accounts of the mules.

Many of them are job seekers, who are promised substantial fees in exchange for channelling funds overseas.

Too good to be true

One Newham resident, 23 year-old Barbara Gyami, said she was offered between £1,500 and £2,000 a week for six hours work a week.

"I'm unemployed and had registered with job agencies," she explained.

"Then I received emails saying they had a particular job but I would have to give them my bank details."

The messages suggested that she would have to process about £6,000 a week to earn her money.

Barbara phoned the telephone number provided but could not find out more about the outfit which was trying to recruit her.

Then she was warned about the scams.

"It just seemed too good to be true," she said.

Warning

Financial Fraud Action, an alliance of banks and other financial firms, is warning customers to steer clear.

"The criminals are currently focusing on East Londoners, comments Katy Worobec, the group's head of fraud control.

"But this problem is a national one and nobody can afford to be complacent."

The fraudsters operate from overseas, raking off funds from unsuspecting bank customers at a rate of £4m a month.

It is difficult for them to make cross-border transfers from UK online accounts, so they need collaborators with UK accounts to receive the money.

The mule is then required to withdraw the funds and send them overseas, using a legitimate money transfer service.

Tips

It is thought that some money mules are in cahoots with the fraudsters, but many are duped into taking part.

Most have no idea that by helping a criminal they could end up with a prison sentence.

Financial Fraud Action gives straightforward tips on how to avoid becoming a money mule:

  • Be very cautious of unsolicited job offers or opportunities to make easy money.
  • Be especially wary of job offers from people or companies overseas.
  • Verify any company which makes you a job offer and check they are registered in the UK.
  • Be suspicious of job adverts that are written in poor English.
  • Never give your bank details to anyone unless you know and trust them.

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