**The following has been issued by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit**
More than 40 people have been visited at homes from Tewksbury to Penzance and 119 warning letters issued as part of a regional operation to identify people who, often unwittingly, are acting as money mules for organised criminals.
Being a money mule, which means allowing your bank account to be used by criminals to transfer the proceeds of their crimes while keeping a small cut for yourself, is a criminal offence. But often the people involved do not even realise they are committing a crime.
Operation Emma, which ran throughout November, saw international law enforcement work together to pursue money mules and their recruiters and prevent people from offending. In the south west of England, the operation was led by the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SWROCU) and supported by forces’ Fraud Protect Officers.
Temporary Detective Inspector Mark Lemoir from the SWROCU said, “Most mules being targeted by criminals are young, keen to get their hands on ‘easy money’ and are easily targeted on social media, apps and gaming sites. In fact, over a third of suspected money mules in our region are aged 18 to 24.
“The consequences are serious. Not only are you facilitating and helping to protect people involved in crimes like people trafficking, modern slavery or drugs supply, but you’re enabling them to continue and grow their operations. That’s why as well as future problems getting bank accounts, student loans, mortgages, or mobile phone contracts, you could find yourself arrested for money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.”
The 119 Cease and Desist letters issued by the SWROCU warn those involved to immediately stop acting as money mules to avoid further police action.
Operation Emma also saw Fraud Protect Officers from Avon and Somerset Police speak to over 400 students at the University of the West of England, Bath University and Bristol University and messaging sent out to Exeter University students.
T/DI Mark Lemoir said: ““Education is just as important: people need to know what they’re getting involved in. There’s been excellent work carried out to engage with young people across the region and fantastic support from universities and colleges to help spread the word.”
The home visits carried out by SWROCU also led to three victims of romance fraud being identified who had all been recruited as money mules under the guise of false online relationships.
They are among eight others who have received safeguarding support to help prevent them becoming involved in any financial scams in the future.
Advice for young people, parents and carers, and education professionals is available as part of the NCA’s #DontBeUsed campaign at www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/moneymuling