A world without social media is almost unthinkable now, and for the younger generation in particular it’s a deeply-ingrained way of life. However, in amongst the photos, posts and live streams, there are more sinister uses, with fraudsters increasingly turning to platforms such as Instagram.
Under-25s are being deliberately targeted with a number of scams which promise to be money-spinners but instead make users accessories to a crime. Here’s a closer look at how criminals are using social media and how users are inadvertently becoming “money mules”.
A Vulnerable Environment
Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms make it easy for people to connect. This is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Users can chat with others from all over the world, rather than just their real-life friendship circle, but it also means that fraudsters have a steady supply of victims to zone in on.
Fraudsters work by seeming to be trustworthy and friendly, offering others the chance to make money with zero risk. There are groups on Instagram with thousands of followers, with everyone hoping to find a way to make money without too much effort.
The truth is that there’s no magic solution to earning hundreds of pounds instantly. However, the criminals running these scams are very experienced in appearing to be believable – and it’s enough to fool thousands of people every year.
How the Scam Works
The scam could be presented in a variety of different forms but the underlying principle is the same every time: the user needs to provide a valid bank account. This is the commodity that criminals are trying to access as it allows them to launder millions of pounds every year.
Messages typically ask users to provide their card and bank details, promising not to take any money. In many cases they honour this, only using the account to pass their own money through. The cash transitions through the account rapidly, being moved there before then being transferred. Each transaction is too fast for the user to be able to get their hands on any of the cash passing through the account – and they won’t receive the promised fee either.
Many scammers promise hundreds of pounds in return for using an account, and for many people, this may seem like a reasonable request. However, the fee for providing an account is typically never paid, and instead the individual risks being prosecuted for laundering money.
A Very Real Risk
According to the police, under-25s are six times as likely as the older generation to be fooled by this scam. Some sources suggest that as many as 10,000 under-21s were duped in this way in the last year.
Although social media providers don’t allow criminal activity, many don’t seem to be very interested in taking action to close down those attempting to recruit “money mules”.
However, this isn’t the case for police and banks who have been working together to stamp out money laundering. Individuals who allow others to move money through their account risk having their account closed, and in the worst case scenario could be jailed for up to one year.
If you’re approached with this kind of offer, don’t be tempted to accept as you won’t receive a penny and could end up with a criminal record. Report the profile to the social media provider and block them from making further contact; it’s simply not worth the risk.