Almost three in 10 (29%) students would even risk allowing someone else to use their current account or to transfer money, the survey for Nationwide Building Society found.
Nationwide released the findings as it warned students heading to university not to become an easy target for fraudsters offering the chance to make some easy cash.
Money mules allow criminals to hijack their bank accounts in order to move cash around – in return for payments.
However, if the account owners are caught they can face up to 14 years in prison, as well as the financial repercussions of having their bank account closed and finding it hard to apply for credit.
The funds being moved around through mules could be linked to criminal activities such as scams, drug dealing, sexual exploitation or human trafficking.
Once someone becomes a money mule they may be threatened with violence if they try to stop.
Figures given to the BBC’s Crimewatch Live by fraud prevention organisation Cifas have shown a 78% increase in accounts belonging to people aged under 21 bearing the hallmarks of money mule activity and a 76% rise among those for people aged 21 to 30.
The figures compared January to June 2021 with the same period in 2020.
Around six in 10 (61%) students believe they could be vulnerable to money mule scams, Nationwide’s survey found.
Financial worries and not having much experience of money management or in spotting scams were among the main reasons given for feeling vulnerable.
Nine in 10 (91%) of university students worry about their financial situation, compared to a UK population average of 80%, Nationwide said.
More than a third (37%) of students would click on or respond to an advert that offers them an “opportunity” to earn quick or easy money, compared to just a quarter (25%) of people generally.
And nearly two-thirds (65%) of students surveyed said they were unsure what a money mule is.
Many money mule offers start on social media. More than two-thirds (69%) of students surveyed for Nationwide had accepted a friend request on social media from someone they did not know or had not previously met.
Ed Fisher, Nationwide’s head of fraud said: “Students, especially freshers arriving at university for the first time, can often be an easy target for fraudsters given their money worries, lack of experience of the financial system and managing their money, and how much of their daily lives are spent online.
“Our research shows it’s that hunt for quick and easy cash which can sometimes put them at risk, leading to immediate and long-term consequences. However, it’s also important to note that anyone can become a money mule – both young and old.”
Some 1,500 university students plus 1,500 adults generally were surveyed across the UK.
Here are some tips from Nationwide to avoid money mule activity:
- Be wary of job adverts that offer the chance to earn a significant amount of money for very little effort. Try to stick to reputable job advert websites.
- Be cautious about “job offers” from overseas. It could be harder to find out if they are legitimate.
- Always suspect anyone contacting you offering quick and easy money. Remember, if it appears too good to be true, it probably is.
- Do not go ahead without undertaking proper research on the person, company or opportunity. Make sure the company and contact details are legitimate.
- Do not engage with any social media posts offering large sums of money. Ignore them and report them.
- Do not share bank and personal details with anyone that you do not know or trust.
- If you are asked to receive money into your account and to then transfer that on to someone else, say no and contact the police and your bank or building society. You never know where that money has come from – it could be criminal activity.
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