Obi Juwah, a presenter of VICE’s investigatory docuseries Crimewave, sits down with Jimmy to talk about how the production came about, the surrealness of sourcing fraud opportunities through social media, and what can be done to educate the younger generation.
Within just 10 minutes of signing up to two platforms with dud accounts, Obi managed to source multiple fraudsters offering money mule opportunities.
What surprised you the most when working on the documentary?
What got me was the speed and how instant it was (to become involved with money muling.)
We made a fake Instagram and a fake Snapchat and basically we got into the mindset of a young person in London, just trying to money. I say London, it could be anywhere to be fair, any youngster just trying to make some money quickly.
So we typed him quick cash, make money now, make money fast, any one of the synonyms on these on the explore pages on these platforms and then we simply followed or added all of the accounts that were linked to it within literally minutes.
I don’t want to say all of them started replying, but we had two or three people asking about ‘who’s this?’ ‘Are you serious about making money?’
From there we asked, What do I need to do? A picture of your ID. I need your address. I need what’s the national insurance number, all of that type of individual information.
On paper, when you say it to just any normal person, you think why would I tell them literally everything about myself? But you need to understand like the desperation of some people to then see money muling as a viable option of making money and a relatively safe option.
I found out that young people are more likely to get coerced to get involved with bank fraud or anything like that because of the rise of social media. Some people get involved to help their mum but many get involved because they’re chasing clout to share on their socials, impress friends, and all that.
Simply, young people are being targeted on social media because they are naive and not aware of the consequences.
Risk-free – that word just kept getting used by the criminal all the time. But that’s so far removed from the truth it’s unbelievable. You could get a maximum of 14 years in prison but young people believe that these people are handing them a quick-cash scheme.
What can we do, as a responsible society, to stop young people seek illegal opportunities on these open platforms?
I would say it is linked to many pressures on social media and social media companies – it’s just all about identification. I don’t believe you can have faceless accounts anymore. That’s how a lot of these criminals are working with faceless accounts. Fake email addresses etc.
If you don’t have the proof of verification, there are clear consequences of money muling, online fraud, and even hate speech and racism.
Maybe just have the smallest identification method linked to an account so if untoward was to happen, ie we noticed this person running some suspicious posts, there’s some form of accountability in place.
With social media targeting, maybe it’s because they want to reach a younger audience, maybe they just want to get as many people on it as possible. It’s a lot harder for them to do that in niche forums for example.
But that just seems to be the key, as soon as you have a face to that account, everyone will start acting above board, treating everyone else with respect, and stop a lot of this illegal activity.
Social media companies could be doing more, but then that’s just more work for them to do. They don’t want they don’t care about it. We just want to sell ads.
From speaking to some of these platforms, sure they did a lot to target misinformation on stuff like that during the pandemic, but if those keywords were for say fraud, money muling, or other key trigger words, surely you could have done the same thing?
Until the people start speaking out and then politicians start speaking on that’s when we’re going to see some changes.
Can you tell us much about the mechanics of a relationship between a fraudster and their so-called mule?
In terms of the cut, it varies depending on your relationship with the main person ushering the food.
One of the guys, I spoke to, who was coerced by a family member to become a mule, hit cut was 50-50, but that ended up going sour as well. For other people, it was more along the lines of 20-25%.
So that’s small enough for it to get you interested in the game and think that if you can get away with it once, maybe I can open up two accounts this time or get some of my mates involved with this.
As I say, one of the people we spoke to, one of the victims of it I guess you’d say, was coerced by a family member who said we’ll put £4,000 into your account, you keep £2,000 and we’ll handle the rest.
Again, the victim was thinking it’s risk-free, it came directly from someone he trusts and didn’t think to ask much about why this was being done.
When he opens the account, the people take £2,000 out of his account in one transaction; gold. This is something that’s so far-fetched that obviously, the banks froze his new account almost instantly.
Luckily, he managed to convince the backs that it was a case of fraud but not done by him but his account was closed for four years. Imagine if that was your main account?
The criminals say victimless, risk-free but it’s not victimless and it’s not risk-free. There are people who might lose access to their bank account, might get a criminal record or wore might end up being blacklisted so they can’t get mortgages in the future.
From there as well, how are you going to get a student loan? Now you can’t even go to university and improve your education or your career. The rest of your life might be ruined by just a mistake or chasing that despite to get money quick.
At the end of the day though, kids won’t listen to people if you preach at them but these are the repercussions. That’s what a lot of people, young people don’t know, the repercussions of their actions. Trying to get them to understand that this is what could happen should help deter at least some.