Police forces in 26 European countries took part in a worldwide operation to crack down on money launderers and their unwitting recruits, Europol said.
Operation EMMA 6 – the sixth European Money Mule Action – was organised between September and November this year, with the help of the European Banking Federation, Interpol and Western Union, and coordinated by Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.
A total of 422 people were arrested, including 227 people whose job is to recruit money mules.
“Money mules are individuals who, often unwittingly, have been recruited by criminal organisations as money laundering agents to hide the origin of ill-gotten money,” Europol explained.
“Unaware that they are engaging in criminal activities, and tricked by the promise of easy money, mules transfer stolen funds between accounts, often in different countries, on behalf of others. In exchange, they receive a commission for their services.”
The operation identified 4,031 money mules.
“The phenomenon of internet fraud has been on the rise for some time now,” Stijn De Ridder, commissioner of Antwerp police, told the VRT. Antwerp has seen 280 cases this year involving mules.
“We have noticed that criminals try to make clever use of impressionable and vulnerable young people. They try to transfer criminal money quickly through their account. Money mules are an essential link in that process.”
The criminals are increasingly making use of social media to attract potential mules, who are assured they are breaking no laws, when in fact there are criminal penalties attached to mule activities – prison for up to five years, and fines of up to €100,000. And ignorance of the law is no defence.
Without the mules, the criminals would have a harder job laundering their cash. So the Belgian banking federation Febelfin has launched a campaign to warn young people of the dangers of falling into the trap.
“It is a shame that young people allow themselves to be seduced by such empty promises. Because many have never come into contact with the police before,” Commissioner De Ridder said.