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Cash-strapped students falling prey to money mule fraud

Fraudulent criminal gangs are targeting growing numbers of students who are struggling to make ends meet amidst the sustained rise in the cost of living.

As students start the new university academic year, new figures* show a 78% year-on-year increase in accounts of people aged under 21 that bear the hallmarks of money mule activity, and that three in five students have been approached in person or online to receive cash in their student bank account and transfer it to another account in return for a tempting financial incentive.

Often targeted on social media, students who fall for this type of financial crime unwittingly become a so-called ‘money mule’ – and could face criminal charges for money laundering.

In a bid to raise awareness of the problem across the city’s student communities, the University of Birmingham’s Law School is working on a ‘Money Mule’ campaign with law firm Tenet which specialises in advice on disputes and compliance arising out of fraud and financial crime.

Designed to educate students and young people on the warning signs, dangers and consequences of being a money mule, the campaign is part of Birmingham Law School’s Pro Bono project for students, Street Law.

“With the soaring cost of living and eye-watering energy costs, students are prime targets for criminals looking for money mules under the guise of a ‘make easy cash quick’ opportunity,” says Tenet founder Arun Chauhan, a specialist fraud and financial crime lawyer.

“The incidence of money mule fraud has risen sharply in recent years – UK figures* show a rise of 20% from 2017 to 2018 in cases of young people aged 14 to 18, with money mule crime up by 80% since 2020. This year, statistics for January to June reveal that a third of all money mules were aged between 17 and 21, and that over half of students (52%) don’t know what a money mule is.”

Arun’s colleague, Rebecca Craig, adds: “Students often don’t realise that acting as a money mule is illegal and that they could face criminal charges, have their bank accounts frozen, or lose the ability to have an account, let alone seeing their student loan applications refused. In particular, victims are unaware the crime facilitates money laundering – organised crime gangs use the transferred funds to commit serious crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and people smuggling.”

Tenet has been a partner of the University of Birmingham’s Law School and Pro Bono Group since late 2021. Members of the firm’s team have delivered content and information to students and post graduates to help them develop their knowledge of how the law operates in the real world, and legal insights on some of the most topical and growing fraud crimes.

Street Law projects, delivered by the Law School’s Pro Bono Group, involve creating and delivering interactive legal education to local schools and other community groups to help them understand the law, their legal rights and how they apply this knowledge to their own personal circumstances. The Fraud Street Law project was delivered as part of the Routes to Professions (R2P) mentoring programme for Year 12 students. The Street Law Money Mule project – shortlisted for the CSR Initiative of the Year in The British Legal Awards 2022 – is Birmingham Law School’s first initiative for the Pro Bono Group:

“Street Law is open to all our student Pro Bono Group members” explains Amy Tabari, Head of Birmingham Law School’s Pro Bono Group. “Our students work in a variety of settings including public sector organisations, community groups, and schools, to deliver interactive legal education sessions on a range of topics and themes including drugs legislation, parental and human rights. Street Law is a simple and effective way to get messaging out into the community to try to support people who don’t have the benefit of a legal education, nor sometimes the means to seek legal advice when it is needed.”

Alan Prince (age 24) and Tomos McFarlane (age 23) are both LLM Law graduates from University of Birmingham and members of the Street Law project. With support from Tenet’s team, they conducted research, created a video and presentation about money mules for students:

“Guided by experienced professionals from Tenet, the project’s central aim was to make a complex area of fraud law understandable to young people using videos and presentations, and we were able to make a positive impact through the sessions,” they explain.

“Our work included delivering a session on money mules to a group of local school students to create awareness of the consequences of being a money mule, and how to avoid it.

“Not only did we learn a lot about fraud and money mules, it was beneficial to work with professionals to gain practical experience on such a disturbing topic, and see the lasting impact of the sessions on the students, many of whom emailed their thanks for the insights, and for sparking their interest in key fraud topics.”

Amy Tabari adds: “Birmingham Law School was delighted to have an opportunity to partner with Arun and colleagues at Tenet and have the benefit of their legal expertise and enthusiasm to embark with us and our students on something new and of huge importance. For the Law School, projects like this are best done in partnership with external local lawyers who have the specialist legal expertise and an awareness of the legal need that exists in our local communities.”

*Data from Cifas, the not-for-profit cross-sector fraud prevention organisation.

Should you suspect that you are a victim of fraud or other wrongdoing, please do not hesitate to get in touch at hello@tenetlaw.co.uk

Published on December 2, 2022

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Phone: 0121 796 4020

Email: hello@tenetlaw.co.uk

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