Business Maverick

FINANCIAL FRAUD

Gen Zs from Joburg the most susceptible to money mule recruitment, stats show

Gen Zs from Joburg the most susceptible to money mule recruitment, stats show

As financial institutions around the world tighten up on security measures for the opening and operating of bank accounts, criminals are increasingly using money mules.

Manie van Schalkwyk, chief executive of the South African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), says the organisation’s statistics show that younger South Africans seemed more susceptible, with 78.5% of money mules in their twenties and thirties, while 13.7% were in their forties. 

In terms of race demographics, 86% were black, 8% were white, 4% were coloured and 2% were either Indian or unknown. 

“The males were twice as likely to be implicated than females, with 67% of individuals being male … 93.7% of mules were not married, meaning they are 16.6 times more likely to be involved in illicit activities,” Van Schalkwyk says. 

Of those who the SAFPS was able to obtain income information, 77% earned less than R10,000 a month, with only 9% earning more than R20,000 a month. More than half (54%) of South African mules live in just three municipalities – Johannesburg (29%), Ekurhuleni (13%) and eThekwini (12%).  

By allowing criminals to use their accounts for fraudulent purposes, money mules add layers of distance between victims of crime and criminals, making it harder for law enforcement and financial institutions to accurately trace the flow of funds. 

“This impairs the ability to stop and secure illicit funds, and mules can move funds in various ways through bank accounts, virtual currency, prepaid debit cards and/or money service businesses,” Van Schalkwyk says.  

Typically, a money mule is provided with a SIM card or cellphone to install a banking app and to receive one-time PINs. The mobile phone or SIM card, and any documents, are then handed to the “recruiter” once an account has been opened. The recruiter then has full control of the account. Illicit money is typically used to fund human and drug trafficking or illegal arms dealing, among other illegal activities. 

Van Schalkwyk says in the current environment, many South Africans are desperate to make money and could be easily duped into cooperating or coerced into turning a blind eye. 

David Pegley, managing director of the Australian Financial Crimes Exchange (AFCX), which includes five of the largest Australian retail banks, says the organisation has noted a startling uptake in financial fraud, moving from 100,000 fraud events per week 18 months ago, to 140,000 fraud events per week currently. 

“That’s massive growth. Digital fraud has increased substantially since 2019 and we are seeing predominantly investment scams targeted at victims aged 60 or older. Cryptocurrency is a very popular method of transferring funds,” he says. 

Different types of money mules

Pegley outlined the following mule typologies: 

  • Complicit: People who are aware of their role as a money mule and have agreed to it.
  • Witting: Those who have chosen to ignore obvious red flags or are wilfully blind to their money movements, but continue to act in this capacity.
  • ID takeover: The recipient account was created by fraudsters that have taken over the victim’s identity to receive fraudulent money.
  • Syndicate: Mule accounts that are part of a syndicate, identified through investigations.
  • Sleeper: Mule accounts identified through investigations, which have not been used for a long time.
  • Non-complicit/unwitting: Person using their own and legitimate ID to open an account, without realising that the account is being used for muling purposes.

Mike Haley, chief executive of UK fraud prevention service Cifas, adds that social media is a key enabler for recruitment, with Instagram and TikTok the main forums, while mules are also recruited via the dark web and fraudulent forums. DM

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