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Febelfin CEO Karel Baert gave this foreword at the stakeholder event on money mules that took place in May 2022.


Good afternoon everyone and welcome to this event, focusing entirely on money mules.

I’m pleased to see you all here, because money mules is a phenomenon that is often overlooked when discussing familiar forms of fraud such as phishing, even though it is a substantial part of this. Because the stolen money has to go somewhere and in most cases, at first this is not the fraudster’s own bank account. The stolen money reaches the criminal via a detour to make it more difficult to trace, and this detour is the money mule’s account.

What makes money mules so exceptional, unlike phishers or other cybercriminals, is that this is a dual phenomenon. By that I mean that a money mule can sometimes be both perpetrator and victim, unlike phishers, for example, who select the victims themselves and make direct contact with them. With them there is no doubt: they are the perpetrators. And for them to be able to strike without drawing attention to themselves, they need money mules. And these money mules are often not aware what they are involved in. But who are they exactly?

Money mules are often young people who want to earn a little extra money quickly and easily and who frequently do not immediately see the harm in lending out their PIN code and bank card - in return for payment. Of course, there are also money mules who are aware of the fact that they are committing a crime. Money mules are approached via social media, for example via an anonymous Instagram account that promises them good pay. It happens in the real world too: they are approached at the school gate or in a café, by strangers or by acquaintances or friends, who sometimes present it as an innocent favour for a friend. Although it’s anything but innocent.

Because making your account available to help commit fraud, even if otherwise you have nothing to do with it, is a crime, because you are complicit in money laundering. By acting as a money mule, you have helped to make fraud possible, even though you may not have been aware of it yourself. And there is a good chance of being caught, because banks and other organisations cooperate closely to expose the network. And as a money mule, they have you in their sights immediately.

This is precisely why it is essential to raise awareness. Recent figures from a Febelfin study conducted in cooperation with the Indiville research firm indicate that 16% of young people would make their bank card or bank account with the PIN code available to someone they do not know. That is an increase of 7% compared with last year. Thirty-five per cent of the population know what a money mule is, but the figure among young people is barely 22%. In addition, young people are insufficiently aware of the risks run by money mules.

For quite some time now, money mules have no longer been a phenomenon found exclusively in big cities. Ten per cent of the young people questioned have been approached to become a money mule. In 2021, the figure was 6%.

So the general public - and not only young people, because also less young people are letting themselves be used as money mules to earn a little extra - needs to know that this exists, how a scam like this works and what impact it can have on their future, so that they can recognise it and stay well away. Because being a money mule seriously affects the rest of your life. For instance, you can no longer open a bank account, you have a criminal record, compensation is due to victims, and so on.

We therefore need to work hard to make this phenomenon known in order to curb it as much as possible, firstly in the interest of those who fall victim to the scam, but also in the interest of the money mules themselves.

That is why this event is so important: together we have to ensure that people know what money mules are and what the consequences are. We have to carry on raising awareness and cooperating so that the stakeholders concerned can take action more efficiently. Initiatives and a joint approach such as that just outlined by Governor Berx are therefore more than welcome and we can only encourage them. Expert Rudy Vereecken of Worldline will shortly be setting out some good practices on how cooperation between various organisations can yield immediate results. Stijn De Ridder, commissioner of the Antwerp Police Zone, will tell us how criminals use money mules in various ways and how the profile of the money mule and the way in which money is laundered are evolving.

Along with a number of partners present here, Febelfin has prepared educational material for young people. This will be explained in more detail at the end of the plenary session.

I would like to sincerely thank our partners for their assistance in bringing about this event: the governor of the Province of Antwerp, Cathy Berx, Stijn De Ridder, commissioner and head of service of the Antwerp Police Zone and Rudy Vereecken, security expert at Worldline.

Thank you for your cooperation and for all the initiatives that are to follow.

Want to know more about this stakeholder event? 

- Please note that this is only available in Dutch and French.

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