The UK Higher Education sector educates over 2.3 million students, employs over 400,000 staff and contributes more than 95 Billion to the UK economy each year.


This makes universities, and their students a very attractive prospect for
criminals as they seek to extort money through crimes such as ransomware
and cyber attacks. But once they manage to obtain money through
criminal actions, they need ways of unlocking it. The answer to this is a
money mule.


Criminals contact people and offer them cash to receive money into their bank account and transfer it to another account. This allows them to ‘clean’ money that has come directly from criminal activity. When an individual gives access to their bank account in this way, they become a money mule.

It is highly likely your students will not know what a money mule is. Even if they have been approached, it is unlikely that it will have been called money muling. Watching Crooks and engaging with the campaign can really help broaden their understanding and help them to protect themselves against  getting involved in financial crime. 


All students are potential targets for criminals. However, different types of students may be targeted for different types of financial crime. In Crooks we detail the story of an international student, Ling, and home student, Kyle to demonstrate how different student populations are targeted in culturally specific ways. However students that may be considered by the university in general are also at high risk of becoming a money mule – such as those with additional needs, or those facing financial hardship.


International student Ling is a character in Crooks that is targeted by criminals when she seeks help trying to pay her fees. They have infiltrated a university WeChat group and look like a helpful friend. But the reality is they are using Ling’s account as a way of gaining access to criminal cash.  Students like Ling are vulnerable due to the use of underground banking systems. Financial literacy, particularly about UK banking practises is really important even pre-arrival.

Key points universities need to communicate to international students: 

    • Ensure they pay their fees themselves.
    • Card payment through the university card payment provider system is the safest method.
    • Do not make payments via a third party – even if they offer ‘proof’ that the bill is fully or partially paid first.
    • Never allow anyone else to use their bank account, including ‘selling’ their bank account to another student before they return home.


As this is becoming an increasing issue on university campuses all over the world, it is important that universities raise awareness and offer support to students.


How universities can tackle this issue:

        • Act on suspicious activity reports and make suspicious activity known to the police – this will ensure intervention at the earliest opportunity.
        • Know the law around anti-money laundering as it relates to the HE sector.
        • Be clear about how students can pay their fees. Many universities no longer accept cash payments, which is a great start in reducing money mules. But other payment methods, such as bank transfer, are just as risky.
        • Offer secure card payments with clear instructions in multiple languages before students arrive at university.
        • Educate students about the dangers of fraud and financial crime as a key life skill.
        • Keep up to date with legal changes, best practise and other key tips and advice. 

We have a free community platform where university staff can access advice and support, we also offer a number of training courses to help staff understand this issue and help prevent fraud and financial crime on university campuses across the world.