Students face prison for being criminal 'money mules': top garda
Hundreds of students are staring at the prospect of jail time for letting fraudsters use their bank accounts, a leading anti-fraud garda has warned.
Gardaí believe hundreds of millions of euro have been laundered through Irish bank accounts with students complicit in criminal acts.
They are being contacted via social media with the lure of making easy money. Criminals see university campuses as soft targets for recruiting these "money mules".
Detective Chief Superintendent Patrick Lordan described the complexity of the network as a "spider's web".
He told the Irish Independent students who had got involved in the scam were now under threat of being jailed.
Det Chief Supt Lordan said students accepting cash for the use of their accounts had become rife.
"There are several hundred student accounts in Ireland being used for this type of activity," he said.
"We've seen one student do it two or three times, so they know what they're doing. And they are now getting into trouble. Some have been charged and more will be charged.
"Custodial sentences are now in the frame. Because without a money mule, this fraud often doesn't work. It's like drug trafficking."
The phenomenon has escalated amid a surge of online money-laundering scams by hackers and IT-savvy gangs that defraud companies and semi-state bodies using email techniques.
Once a scam has been successful, scammers need a bank account to transfer the money into for withdrawal.
"What happens is that someone approaches a student and says 'a friend of mine wants to invest here in Ireland, but it's taking a while to get past the red tape, so I'll pay you €500 to use your account'," said the senior officer.
The fraudster then wires illicit cash into the account before getting the student to take it out or move it on to a further account.
Det Chief Supt Lordan said students must be fully aware they are facing serious criminal sanctions if they engage in what may appear harmless.
"These students are committing offences," he said. "This can have a permanent effect on your life."
He said any students who found themselves in such a situation should report it.
A separate scam known as invoice redirect fraud has also increased in frequency here.
The scammer poses as a trusted supplier or a company executive, often hacking or mimicking an established company email address or mobile number.
The criminal then dupes other legitimate company officers into transferring money to bogus accounts they've set up.
They carry this off often by posing as a supplier that has "changed" its bank account details.
Organisations caught in such scams include Trinity College Dublin, which was hit for almost €800,000 in this way in 2017, and Dublin Zoo, which saw €500,000 siphoned away through an imitation supplier bank account.