10th September 2019

Santander and reformed fraudsterTony Sales uncover the social media hashtags designed to lure people into becoming money mules

New research1 from Santander reveals that almost a quarter (23%) of adults would be tempted to click on a money mule recruitment post, while one in four(24%) under 25s admit to having previously engaged with such a post
One in ten Brits(10%) have been directly approached on social media by a fraudster wanting to use them as a money mule-with 18% of those confessing to have gone ahead with the transaction.

With the new academic year just around the corner, research from Santander and former fraudster Tony Sales has exposed the dangerous hashtags on social media being used by criminals to recruit innocent–and particularly young–people into becoming money mules: a crime which can result in a criminal record and even a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

Money mules are people who allow criminals to use their bank accounts to transfer money associated with illegal activity often with the promise of payment in return. According to new research released by Santander, 70% of people are unaware of what a money mule actually is, underlining just how vulnerable the majority of people are to money mule recruiters.

With the number of money mules increasing by 26% in the last year alone-49% of whom are under 25 years old-Santander commissioned reformed scam artist Tony Sales to investigate how criminals use hashtags to lure people in to becoming money mules. In the process of his investigation.

Santander’s research also revealed:
-almost a quarter (23%) of people said they would engage with and click on social media posts featuring these types of ‘easy money’ hashtags, with PayPalFlip being the most tempting of those hashtags identified. This figure rises to 27% for the under 25s, an age group particularly targeted online by money mule recruiters;
-15% of those polled admitted to having actually engaged with a post looking to recruit money mules, rising to 24% among under 25s;
-10% of Brits have been directly approached on social media by a money mule recruiter. Of those, 18% went ahead with an illegal transaction; and
-A quarter of people(24%) either think there aren’t any punishments or don’t know what the penalties are for being a money mule.

Sales comments “The hashtags used to recruit money mules act as bait and form part of a secret language used to entice people into criminal activity. That’s why it’s so important to expose these hashtags for what they are–a fast track to a criminal record.”

Chris Ainsley, Head of Fraud Strategy at Santander, added “It’s alarming to see not just how criminals prey on unsuspecting social media users, but how many people are unaware of what a money mule even is. It takes just a few clicks to become embroiled in this type of crime, but the consequences can have a lifelong effect.”