Lauren is an international student at a UK university. Like for most international students, money is tight, and Lauren has to work to make ends meet. She was in debt after a period of unpaid sick leave so really needed some extra work.
On social media, Lauren saw a job advert which offered between £500-£1,000 a week to work from home as an agent for cryptocurrency transactions. “It had been promoted on social media by a couple of people I’d been at school with so I trusted it.”, she said.
Lauren contacted the recruiter who asked her to provide photos of her passport, as well as her address and bank details as ID. They told her she would receive a commission for handling money transfers.
She was then told to open a crypto currency account and two savings accounts with her building society, Nationwide.
Soon after, £700 was deposited into her Nationwide account and she was instructed to transfer it into the new cryptocurrency account she had set up. When she asked why the scammers told her not to ask questions and warned her that they had all her sensitive information. At that point Lauren realised that she was in a very bad situation.
Lauren had unknowingly become a “money mule” for criminal money launderers. Criminal gangs target international students who need extra money to help them move dirty money without it being detected by authorities. The money is the profit from serious organised crime like the sale of illicit drugs, organised fraud, cyber crime and human trafficking.
There are very serious consequences for any international student, or anyone else, who becomes a money mule. Whether you are studying in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or elsewhere, the laws are roughly the same because most countries must have laws that comply with the standards set by a global body called the Financial Action Task Force.
Money laundering is a serious crime
Knowingly laundering money or assisting someone else to do so is a serious crime. If you are prosecuted and convicted you may face serious jail time. If not, involvement with the police and courts could affect your visa status.
You will get caught
Banks and other financial institutions in all the main study destination countries are required to have strong systems in place to detect money laundering. If they see something suspicious they must report it to the authorities.
In Lauren’s case, Nationwide immediately flagged the transaction as suspicious and froze her accounts as soon as the £700 was deposited. Then she panicked:
The [scammers] told me not to admit to anything because I’d be arrested. They put everything on to me so I pretended that I knew nothing about the transfer when Nationwide questioned me. It was so scary. I didn’t know who these people were, how many of them there were or whether they lived locally.
For the next six weeks Nationwide investigated the incident. Lauren had to have her wages paid into her boyfriend’s account until she could open an account with another bank. Lauren said:
It was the worst month of my life. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t thinking about it but I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. I was so ashamed and alone. I couldn’t eat or sleep. It was difficult to function. I knew I had to be honest but I didn’t know when the time would be right to speak up or if the gang would come for me when I did.
Eventually Lauren broke down and confessed to a Nationwide fraud investigator. They already knew what had happened and were waiting for Lauren to come clean. They accepted she made a mistake and let her open a new account.
Don’t get scammed!
As an international student, the best way to protect yourself from scams is to ensure you understand the risks and warning signs.
Stay safe – by taking the free online course on ‘Scams Targeting International Students‘ today.
Scams Targeting International Students
Educational Institutions, Education Agents and Student Accommodation Providers…
…make our online safety courses available to your international students. Contact us.
Source: The Guardian