News story

Biggest ever crackdown on money mules in the UK

Efforts to disrupt money mule activity and support exploited victims will be strengthened through a new action plan.

Efforts to disrupt money mule activity and support exploited victims will be strengthened through a 22 point action plan announced by the Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, today (1 March 2024). The plan will include a newly funded post at The Children’s Society to raise awareness of child financial exploitation and will also step-up joint working to identify complicit mules through the sharing of intelligence.

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

Cifas estimates that there were 37,000 bank accounts which 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).

Around 23% of money mules are under 21, and 65% are under 30. They are often groomed by criminal gangs, who offer them the prospect of making easy money. Once they are in the system, the gangs will then coerce them into committing further offending, including through blackmail, debt bondage and sextortion.

That is why the government is funding a new Financial Exploitation Lead at The Children’s Society who will spearhead a growing movement to educate those on the front-line, including bank employees, teachers and the police. Its work will ensure thousands of children who are at risk of being exploited by criminal gangs get the support they need. 

The government is publishing new frontline guidance that will enable practitioners to recognise and respond to financial exploitation linked to money laundering so that victims, and potential victims, can get the protection and support they need.

The 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.

Financial exploitation is a form of abuse which can have a detrimental, long-term impact. In some cases, for example, vulnerable people have had difficulty opening bank accounts and received criminal charges.

The government recognises these children as victims and, through the work of The Children’s Society, is raising awareness to help safeguard vulnerable people and ensure victims are able to rebuild their lives.

The NCA is further educating young people, parents and education professionals, which will help to raise awareness of money muling and the strategies used by criminals to recruit potential money mules. This builds on our work with the Association for Citizenship Teaching to create a comprehensive set of interactive lessons designed for secondary school pupils. Themes covered include money muling as well as phishing and social media scams.

Katie Darlington, Financial Exploitation Lead at The Childrens Society, said:

We’re working to better identify and tackle child financial exploitation, a growing harm that’s part of wider work on tackling child abuse. Such exploitation can inflict real trauma on children caught up in it and they need our help, not blame.

With expertise of frontline professionals such as teachers, youth workers and police officers alongside the knowledge of the bank sector, and most importantly by listening to children and young people themselves, our approach will make sure this work is driven by the insights and experiences of the young people most affected.

The work of The Children’s Society is one part of the 22 point money mules action plan, which will protect the public, further our understanding of the threat posed by money mules, safeguard victims, pursue criminal gangs and disrupt the flow of money.

The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), in the NCA, is already working closely with policing and the private sector, as well as those based across the continent, to crack down on money muling. In the money mules action plan, the NCA has committed to delivering a public awareness campaign on money muling, as well as to continue working with the Home Office, private sector and third sector partners on a money mules online hub, which will contain guidance, advice and support on the topic.

Nick Sharp, Deputy Director of the National Economic Crime Centre (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.  

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.

To further enhance co-operation between operational partners in this space, the City of London Police will establish a new intelligence unit to improve the police response to money mules and laundering money gained through fraud. This new unit will target money mule herders specifically, and feed intelligence into the regional organised crime unit (ROCU).

Published 1 March 2024