UK Cracks Down on Money Mules

A close-up image of british pound notes under a news headline that reads "uk cracks down on money mules," featured on a document with a logo of aml & compliance.

The UK government has launched its biggest-ever crackdown on money mules by unveiling a 22-point plan to disrupt money mule activity in the country and support exploited victims.

The Action Plan contains widespread reforms that will affect the government, law enforcement, industry regulators and other relevant parties to encourage collaboration and joint working to identify complicit mules through intelligence sharing.

A newly funded post will also be created at The Children’s Society to raise awareness of child financial exploitation.

A money mule is someone who moves and hides illegally gained money on behalf of criminals, including drug dealers, human traffickers and fraudsters.

UK-based fraud prevention service Cifas estimates that there were 37,000 bank accounts that demonstrated behaviour associated with muling in 2023. Approximately £10 billion of illegal money is laundered each year in the UK, according to estimates from the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Children are often targeted as money mules by criminal gangs. Around 23% of money mules are under 21, and 65% are under 30.

A key part of the government’s new Action Plan is the funding of a new Financial Exploitation Lead at The Children’s Society, who will spearhead a movement to educate those on the frontline, including bank employees, teachers and the police.

Announcing the plans, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said: “I am determined to prevent heinous criminals who exploit our children and profit from it, and it is paramount we stop this vicious cycle.

“The Children’s Society’s invaluable work will protect victims who are being exploited while our wider action plan will ensure these evil criminals face the full force of the law,” he continued.

The 22-point Action Plan attempts to clampdown on money mule activity in the UK by focusing on five key areas:

  • Protecting the public.
  • Understanding the threat.
  • Safeguarding victims.
  • Pursuing criminal gangs.
  • Disrupting transactions.

Under the plans, the banking regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA),  will be responsible for developing work on firms’ fraud controls, including deep dives into money mule controls and setting out good practice and areas that need development.

The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) has been tasked with establishing a unit to strengthen the public-private response to crypto illicit finance.

Nick Sharp, Deputy Director of the NECC, said: “Money muling is used by organised criminals to conceal the profits of some of the most serious crimes in the UK.

“At the NECC, we work tirelessly with our colleagues in policing and in the private sector, both in the UK and across Europe, to stem the flow of illicit funds.

“We know that a substantial proportion of money mules are under the age of 30, and many are groomed or coerced into providing the service while at sixth form, college or university. Those involved put themselves and those around them at risk by communicating with dangerous criminals, and by becoming complicit in serious and organised crime,” he continued.

“We are proud to be working with the government to prevent more young people being exploited and raise awareness of what is a significant threat to the public,” said Sharp.

Under the proposals, the money laundering prosecution guidance will be updated to recognise financial exploitation, culpability and public interest considerations. A new law enforcement unit will also be launched to improve the police response to money mules.

For more information about the government’s action plan, click here.

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