Illegal ‘Money Mule’ Scams Are Still Being Touted on Instagram and TikTok

Capitalising on mass job losses among young people, scammers are advertising quick money schemes where recipients are told to transfer money between two bank accounts.
Illegal ‘Money Mule’ Scams Are Being Touted on Instagram and TikTok
Photo: Instagram, via UK Finance and Cifas

Young people are being targeted by “quick cash” money laundering schemes advertised over Instagram.

The “money mule” scheme – often used by criminals for money laundering purposes – involves the victim transferring a sum of cash while keeping a cut for themselves as payment. Schemes like this are advertised over legitimate job websites and social media platforms – such as Instagram, Facebook and TikTok – and can lead to criminal charges or closure of a bank account, unbeknownst to the victim. 

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In 2020, there was a 5 percent increase in “money mule” scams, with over 17,000 cases involving young people aged 21-30, according to a joint report from UK Finance, the trade association for the banking and financial services sector, and Cifas, the fraud protection body. Overall, 21-30-year-olds made up 42 percent of money mule activity in 2020, up from 38 percent two years ago. 

One advert for the scheme on Instagram, next to a photo of cash, reads: “DM to make money. Instant payouts. Serious money to be made. Guaranteed results.”

Another post on Instagram Stories shows a picture of a “bank repayment” with the caption, “If your [sic] 18 and over and want to make legit money message me.”

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An Instagram story advertising a "money mule" scheme. A TikTok video advertising a "money mule" scheme. Photo: UK Finance and Cifas

VICE World News reached out to Facebook, which owns Instagram, for a response to this story but it declined to comment.

Have you been a victim of a “money mule” scam? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can email tips@vice.com, or contact Ruby Lott-Lavigna at @RubyJLL or ruby.lott-lavigna@vice.com.

Young people in the UK have been hardest hit by job losses during the pandemic, largely due to working in hard-hit sectors like hospitality and retail. Data from the Office for National Statistics found that the number of 16-to-24-year-olds in employment fell by 156,000 in the three months leading up to July 2020. At the beginning of 2021, unemployment reached its highest in five years, with young people still having the highest rate of job losses.

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UK Finance and Cifas suggest that advertising money mule schemes will target young people looking for quick cash, exploiting what some have called “Generation COVID.”

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In 2020, the overall amount of money mule activity fell slightly from a peak in 2019 – but still remains higher than 2017.

Mike Haley, CEO of Cifas, said: “Allowing your bank account to be used to transfer funds is illegal. Although transferring funds doesn’t feel like it’s doing any harm, the money you’re being asked to move often comes from scams and crimes committed against innocent members of the public.”

“Banks now have sophisticated technology to detect mule activity,” he continued. “When mules are caught, they can expect their bank accounts to be closed and face great difficulty in obtaining credit, mobile phones or loans in the future. It is vital that you keep your bank account to yourself and not be fooled into taking part in this illegal activity.”