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Protecting People from Money Mule Recruitment

Behaviour change techniques to prevent young people from being recruited as money mules

The use of money mules to launder criminal money is increasing. Today, money mules are mainly young people aged 18 to 25 who are not always aware of the illegality of their actions. Money mules are almost always tracked down and found complicit of money laundering. The financial consequences for money mules are serious. Their bank accounts will be blocked, they may be reported to the police, and their names will be blacklisted for eight years, making it difficult to use banking products in the future.

“Money mules are almost always tracked down and found complicit of money.”

Money mule recruiters use social pressure and requests for help to persuade young people to share their bank details. Think of building trust, acting as if they are friends, altercasting, or making use of the need to belong. In addition, the opinion prevails that 'something like this will never happen to me', which shows that the risk perception of being recruited (unwillingly) is lower than is realistic.

The goal of this project was to protect young people from money mule recruitment. Two behavioral change techniques have been tested to 1) increase motivation to keep their bank details safe (bank card, PIN code, login codes), and 2) improve financial vigilance and thereby stimulate safe behaviour. A two-part experiment was set up to test the behavior change techniques. To measure the effectiveness of the intervention techniques, a money mule simulation game was designed. This allowed the experiment to be conducted in an ethically responsible manner and socially desirable answers were limited.

The results showed that both techniques increased safe financial behaviour; the chance that young people give or share their bank details with others was lower in the experimental conditions. An interaction effect of the two different techniques was not found. This research provides the first indications for two effective behavioral change techniques that can protect young people from money mule recruitment. It thus contributes to the limited amount of literature on money mule recruitment. This is also the first step towards the possibility to measure the chance that young people share bank details during money mule recruitment.

In addition to the scientific thesis, an advisory report was also written for the bank. It contained the results and conclusions of the experiment, together with practical recommendations for how the behavior change techniques can be applied in practice.

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