How would you know if your teen is laundering money?

Teenage boys on laptop and phone
Watching Youtube or laundering money? Best to ask
"It's alarming that our young people are being increasingly targeted in schools and colleges, and aren't aware of the dangers and implications of this crime," Ashok Vaswani, Barclays
  • | by Felicity Hannah

The evidence suggests crooks are targeting teens as money mules

Parents! Do you know where your children's bank accounts are right now? It's a serious question, because the latest wave of financial crime targeting school children and students isn't just exploiting them.

It's recruiting them.

According to the UK fraud prevention service Cifas, in the first six months of this year alone there were more than 17,000 instances of 'misuse of facilities' fraud.

That's where the genuine account holder misuses their own account for profit, sometimes by agreeing to funnel criminals' money. Of the 17,000 instances of this type of fraud in the first half of the year, well over 4,000 of those account holders were under 21.

And that's up from 2,143 the year before. That 50% leap suggests that criminals are now actively recruiting young adults. It's known among criminals as 'deets and squares'.

Deets is slang for bank details and a square is a credit or debit card. Young people are handing over their bank details to fraudsters in exchange for money, making them accessories to the fraudsters' crime. They become money mules - complicit in the crime.

It's easy to see why teens might be attracted to the idea of simply using their current accounts to earn some extra money. As freshers head off to university, many parents will be warning against the temptations of too much drinking and not enough studying.

But perhaps they need to warn about the temptation to try and make easy money as a mule, because it's a serious crime and could mean a prison sentence.

Seriously, a prison sentence

Teenage girl on laptop with card

A conviction for 'misuse of facility' fraud could carry a prison sentence of 10 years. At best, a prosecution for fraud could affect them far into their adult lives and may make it difficult or impossible to apply for even basic financial products.

However, even for those participants who aren't pursued through the criminal justice system, becoming involved could severely damage their credit rating and even leave them vulnerable to fraud from other criminals.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of Cifas, said: "Our figures show that young people are disproportionately at risk of this type of fraud. We want to warn young people, in particular students, to be wary of anyone approaching them in the student union or elsewhere with promises of cash for the use of their bank account.

"Criminals may make it sound attractive by offering a cash payment but the reality is that letting other people use your account in this way is fraud and it's illegal.

"You may end up with an extra £200… but you could also end up with a fraud record - it isn't worth it. We want to send a clear message to try and deter young people from getting involved in this kind of activity."

And Commander Chris Greany, the national co-ordinator for economic crime was even more blunt about the moral implications of getting involved.

He said: "Criminals use money mules in an attempt to conceal or launder the money they have stolen from victims whose lives have often been irreparably damaged. 

"Be under no illusion, by allowing criminals to use your bank account you are assisting them in their crime and running the risk of getting a criminal record that could greatly harm your future."

Sophisticated crooks

Teenage boy on laptop

Ashok Vaswani, CEO of Barclays UK warned: "Crooks are using ever more sophisticated tactics to trick youngsters into handing over their bank details. It's alarming that our young people are being increasingly targeted in schools and colleges, and aren't aware of the dangers and implications of this crime.

"Young people need to be wary of anyone approaching them with the promise of cash for the use of their bank account."

In fact, Barclays is so concerned about this growing problem that it has issued guidance for worried parents who want to be sure their teenagers aren't unwittingly throwing their lives away.

1) Sit down with them and go through their bank statements regularly. Can they account for every transaction and do any stand out as unlikely?
2) Check they know never to share their online PIN, passcode or passwords, even in response to phone calls or emails claiming to be police or bank staff.
3) If they suddenly start to flash cash on new clothes, phones or other items then have a conversation about where the money came from.
4) Discuss the idea of fraud with them, including that letting other people use their bank account is potentially a serious criminal offence and at best something that risks damaging their financial future.
5) Teach them the truth about seemingly 'easy money': if it looks too good to be true then it almost certainly is.

Even if your teen is never approached by a fraudster and never tempted to become a money mule then time spent discussing financial crime and financial security as they prepare to leave home will never be wasted.

And the rule about caution when things look too good to be true will be a relevant lesson for the rest of their lives.

Teenagers can be impulsive, expensive and rash. And that's what fraudsters are quite literally banking on.