Borders opening: Money mules beware

The AFP is urging the public to remain vigilant for signs of increased criminal activity, including money laundering and the use of money mules, as Australia’s international border reopens to vaccinated tourists and visa holders from this week (Monday 21 February).

AFP investigators expect attempts to transport money illegally through airports to spike as passenger numbers increase.

Money laundering organisations and criminal syndicates exploit members of the community to act as money mules or collectors to move proceeds of crime on behalf of criminal groups.

The mules do this via transactions through their personal bank accounts or by collecting cash and depositing it into banks on behalf of the syndicates.

Criminal groups often target international students or non-permanent residents travelling into Australia.

Some mules may not be aware of the illegality of their actions, making it incredibly important for the public to be on the lookout for any red flags.

The AFP is warning all visitors into Australia to understand the serious consequences of money laundering, including the possibility of arrest and criminal charges.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Kirsty Schofield said travellers should ask themselves why someone would want to use their bank account or transfer money on behalf of another individual.

“Please ensure you’re informed of the dangers posed by work that involves you to undertake frequent transactions,’’ Assistant Commissioner Schofield said.

“Be on the lookout for suspicious job recruitment through online chat rooms, social networking sites, hoax websites, fake advertisements or fake profiles.

“Money laundering directly assists criminal syndicates – but you also directly affect real victims who have had either their funds stolen through cyber-attacks, romance scams or the sale of devastating drugs into the Australian community.”

“I cannot put this more plainly – if it seems too good to be true, it is.

“Criminals target members of the community for money laundering because they try to escape law enforcement detection and so they try and recruit others to conduct illegal activity on their behalf.”

AUSTRAC National Manager Jon Brewer said that criminals seeking to evade detection from the authorities should know that AUSTRAC and our partners are focussed on disrupting this criminal behaviour.

"As Australia’s financial intelligence agency and regulator, we are working with industry and law enforcement to monitor, track and stop criminal exploitation of the financial system to protect the Australian community,” Mr Brewer said.

You can help protect yourself and others by following these steps:

  • Never hand over details for your financial accounts. If you are leaving Australia permanently, close your account and do not provide the details for anyone else to use or sell online.
  • Do not agree to open accounts with multiple banks in your true name or operate accounts to receive money. If you’re promised financial gain or a commission, you’re almost certainly moving the proceeds of crime.
  • Be cautious about unsolicited offers or opportunities offering the chance to make easy money.
  • Be wary of offers from people or companies overseas, as it makes it harder to check if they are legitimate.
  • Take steps to verify any company which makes you a job offer, for example, address, phone number, email address and website. You can check if it is a registered company in Australia (does it have an ABN etc.).
  • Never give your confidential banking details or identification information to anyone.
  • Always guard your personal information and be suspicious if someone asks for personal details soon after contact.
  • Be wary of a person asking for financial assistance – never send money, particularly by wire transfer, as these funds cannot be recovered by banks.
  • Be cautious of someone asking for details of your financial status – do not provide the information, and
  • If you have received money in your bank account, transferred or attempted to transfer money overseas, please immediately contact your bank or financial institution. You could be at risk of having your identity stolen by these criminals and your bank account drained of savings.

Money laundering explained

  • Money laundering is a key enabler of transnational serious and organised crime. Money laundering networks help drug traffickers and organised crime groups access the profits from their Australian crimes by moving the proceeds offshore, while attempting to avoid detection by law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
  • The AFP in Australia partners with our state and territory law enforcement agencies, other Commonwealth agencies, and private partnerships through the Fintel Alliance, to seize cash and assets, and prosecute individuals for dealing in the proceeds of crime.
  • The AFP also works closely with foreign law enforcement partners to prosecute and disrupt offshore controllers of money laundering networks.
  • Money laundering networks may use daigous (personal shoppers), registered and unregistered money remitters, casinos, money mules, Hawala (offsetting) and seemingly legitimate businesses to launder their ill-gotten gains.
  • It is estimated that professional organisations launder many millions of dollars each year on behalf of organised crime groups in Australia.

Media enquiries

AFP Media: (02) 5126 9297

If it doesn't add up, speak up. Call the National Security Hotline - 1800 123 400.

Read the AFP Annual Report 2020-21

Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation - visit website

Policing and community news from the AFP