New guidance released to help combat the use of foreign students as money mules

Today AUSTRAC released a new financial crime guide to help businesses identify and report suspicious activity related to criminal networks targeting vulnerable international students and temporary residents as money mules. 

The AUSTRAC-led public-private partnership – Fintel Alliance – developed the guide in partnership with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Border Force (ABF). 

A money mule is the go-between for criminals who have obtained funds illegally. Criminal networks often seek to exploit vulnerable members of the community to move the proceeds of crime and to launder illicit funds on their behalf. They do this to create distance between themselves and the crime, and to help avoid detection by law enforcement.

Criminal networks are known to target international students and other temporary residents as money mules, offering them a way to make money while living in Australia. Some money mules are unaware this activity is illegal, often believing their facilitation of fund transfers constitutes legitimate employment. 

AUSTRAC National Manager, Law Enforcement and Industry, Jon Brewer says financial service providers play an important role in combating money mule activity. 

“Criminal networks are constantly looking for ways to clean their dirty money – money obtained as the proceeds of all types of criminal activity including drug and human trafficking, fraud and scams,” he said.

“Through profiling and transaction monitoring, financial service providers can target, detect and report financial transactions associated with money laundering via money mules. This new guide provides the latest advice on what financial institutions should be looking for to help protect vulnerable people from criminal exploitation.” 

AFP Detective Superintendent Tim Stainton says criminals are increasingly targeting foreign students to be recruited as money mules, where they are offered payment to receive money to transfer to another account.

“The money being transferred is often the proceeds of a crime which can then be used by organised crime syndicates to fund other criminal ventures like drug importations, cybercrime, terrorism and human trafficking,” he said.

“In Australia, participating in money muling is a serious criminal offence. If convicted, you can face anywhere from 12 months to life in prison.

In addition to engaging in criminal activity, you risk breaching the terms of your bank or financial institution and could lose access to your bank accounts.”

ABF Commander of the Customs Enforcement Branch, John Taylor, says ABF works closely with Australian law enforcement agencies to combat organised crime and keep Australians and the foreign student community safe. 

“We are committed to stopping the movement of illicit money across borders,” Commander Taylor said. 

“The financial crime guide identifies how criminal networks exploit vulnerable people such as foreign students as money mules. The guide also provides indicators and behavioural methodologies for our partner agencies and financial service providers to help target and disrupt financial transactions associated with money mule activity.”

The guide draws on intelligence collected and analysed through Fintel Alliance and by the AFP and ABF. It provides practical advice to businesses on what to look out for, and when they should report to AUSTRAC.

Businesses should use a combination of the indicators in this new guide and their own transaction monitoring to identify suspected money mule accounts, and report their concerns to AUSTRAC by submitting a suspicious matter report.

Read the financial crime guide on the AUSTRAC website, under Guidance resources.

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