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The Age of Money Mules is Trending Younger

– We are now identifying a growing number of money mule cases, states Silje Andrea Kvernberg, who specializes in transaction monitoring at Tietoevry Defence Centre.

Rina-Maria Ingemannsen / April 11, 2024

Traditionally, money mule activities involving cards were uncommon, but now, money transfer services and cards are being used more frequently for this purpose.

For most of us, the concept of money laundering feels quite distant. However, it's closer than many might think. Criminal entities are deploying creative strategies to recruit increasingly younger individuals to launder illicit funds. Tietoevry Defence Centre is making efforts to halt as many of these operations as possible.

A money mule is a person who, often unknowingly, is used to launder money on behalf of others. This practice involves the money mule receiving and then transferring money through their own bank account or by sending it on to other accounts, both domestically and internationally. The funds typically originate from criminal activities such as fraud, drug trafficking, or other illegal enterprises.

According to the Police Threat Assessment 2024, the use of money mules in laundering operations is a rising challenge and has become a commodity for criminals. The police anticipate that fraud will become an increasingly significant source of income for criminal networks, with more individuals being recruited and exploited as mules.

Significant Increase in Cases

Over the last three months, the Defence Centre has uncovered 120 money mule cases – a 144 percent increase compared to the previous three months. In total, attempts were made to launder NOK 25.5 million, with transactions worth approximately NOK 10.5 million being intercepted.

Behind the numbers, it emerges that 20 percent of the money mule cases involved individuals aged between 23 to 33 years.

– However, 15 percent of the identified money mules were born between 2000 and 2010 – and about 95 percent are male. The youngest we've encountered was born in 2007, making them merely 16 years old, Kvernberg notes.

Various Methods to Entice the Youth

The vulnerability of young people to criminal exploitation for money laundering has also been highlighted by the Economic Crimes Authority (Økokrim) and the Financial Supervisory Authority of Norway. In its 2023 Risk Assessment – Money Laundering and Terror Financing, the Authority notes an increase in the use of money mules in laundering processes: “It is particularly concerning that young and other vulnerable individuals are being exploited.”

Funds are transferred from the mules’ bank accounts to Norwegian and foreign accounts controlled by criminals. There are also instances where money mules purchase gift cards or expensive watches, or transfer funds to various cryptocurrency exchanges for buying cryptocurrencies.

Youths are often recruited into money mule activities through strategies exploiting their lack of experience, need for money, or desire to belong. These methods include:

  • Advertisements for fake jobs: Young individuals see ads on social media for seemingly legitimate jobs promising easy money for little work, such as being a “financial agent” or “transaction handler.” These ads might also be shared by friends who have been deceived, lending a false sense of legitimacy.
  • Direct contact: Criminals may also reach out to youths directly via social media, email, or messaging apps with offers of quick earnings, exploiting platform algorithms to target vulnerable or receptive individuals.
  • Peer pressure: Youths may be introduced to money mule activities through friends or acquaintances already involved. The desire to “fit in” or impress can play a significant role.
  • Reward systems: Existing mules may be offered incentives to recruit others, creating a chain of recruitment among youth groups.

Tracking Patterns and Suspicious Money Trails

Detecting money mule activity is a relatively new area for Defence Centre, which primarily focuses on card and account monitoring to detect third-party fraud. Currently, Defence Centre does not have a specific transaction monitoring service for anti-money laundering but comes across laundering cases during its card and account monitoring activities.

– Most often, we uncover money mule activity in connection with suspicions of ‘ordinary’ card or account fraud. This could be through the discovery of new fraud patterns and suspicious money trails, or because the conversation with the card or account owner seemed dubious, Kvernberg explains.

Accumulated knowledge over time, along with the 'Blocking of Rough Merchants' (BoRM) service, aids Defence Centre in identifying an increasing number of money mule cases.

– With the BoRM option, we block transactions with merchants known to be linked to money mule activities, says Kvernberg.

Silje Andrea Kvernberg
Quality Manager, Financial Crime Prevention
Rina-Maria Ingemannsen
Marketing Project Manager


Rina-Maria Ingemannsen

Marketing Project Manager

Silje Andrea Kvernberg

Quality Manager, Financial Crime Prevention

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