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New Guidelines to Tackle Money Muling Cases Among International Students

Although it doesn’t happen often, there has been an increase in international students and temporary migrants in Australia being targeted by criminal organisations to help launder money. These individuals, often referred to as “money mules,” knowingly or unknowingly transfer money that comes from illegal activities.

In response, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) have released guidelines to address this issue. These guidelines provide insights into who is most at risk and offer tips to avoid becoming involved in this criminal activity.

This article will explain what money muling is, the legal consequences and things you can do to protect yourself.


Criminal networks in Australia have been found to target international students and temporary migrants for money laundering. These networks, composed of individuals and organised crime groups, engage in a variety of illegal activities, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, scams and fraud. The aim is to move their illegal funds into the economy to increase their wealth, fund more crimes or avoid detection by law enforcement.

One of the methods used by these criminal networks is employing money mules. A money mule is someone who transfers or moves illegally acquired money on behalf of someone else. This can involve moving physical cash, transferring funds through bank accounts, or using prepaid debit cards or digital currency.

Money mules might use their own bank accounts, someone else’s, or may be instructed to register a company and open a business bank account for laundering purposes. The purpose of this is to help create distance between the criminal activities and the networks themselves to avoid detection. 

Money muling is not something exclusive to Australia. In March 2024, the UK announced new efforts to disrupt money mule activity, and you may have heard of similar activities in your home country. 

Who is targeted and how?

Criminals exploit vulnerable community members by offering them a way to make money while living in Australia. International students and temporary residents are particularly vulnerable to being recruited as money mules due to financial pressures, limited knowledge of local laws, isolation, and cultural and language barriers. The high costs of tuition and living expenses make the promise of easy money appealing.

Additionally, newcomers may not fully understand the severe consequences of money laundering.

These networks also target both legitimate and illegitimate visa holders. For example, departing students or temporary visa holders who no longer need their bank accounts or identification details may sell them to criminal networks.

Illegitimate visa holders, on the other hand, may acquire visas under false pretences, create bank accounts and identification documents, and pass these onto criminal networks before leaving Australia.

According to AUSTRAC, certain subgroups are at higher risk, though anyone can be targeted. These are:

  • Students and non-permanent residents from East Asia.
  • Individuals with international passports and/or proof of age cards who identify as students.
  • Students who have recently arrived in Australia or are preparing to depart.

Criminal networks use a variety of methods to recruit money mules, including:

  • Online platforms: Social media, chat forums, online gaming platforms, and advertisements are common tools for recruitment. These platforms help keep the identity of criminals hidden.
  • Face-to-face contact: Criminals might approach students directly on campus or in public places, posing as legitimate employers.
  • Trusted insiders: Complicit migration agents or individuals involved in visa applications, education, or relocation services may also recruit students, leveraging their trusted access to personal details.

Legal consequences

Participating in money muling might seem like a low-risk, high-reward opportunity, but the stakes are very high if you get caught. Australian authorities are cracking down on this crime—particularly after the recent Nixon Review which exposed widespread exploitation of Australia’s migration system—and the penalties are severe.

In Australia, being convicted of money muling can lead to penalties ranging from 12 months to life in prison. Additionally, students risk breaching their bank’s terms of service, which can result in losing access to their bank accounts.

A criminal record can also negatively impact future employment opportunities, travel plans, and the ability to retain an Australian student visa.

Remember, moving money for criminals helps fund illegal activities like drug trafficking, cybercrime and human trafficking. By participating, even unknowingly, you are complicit in a money laundering offence and risk significant legal repercussions.

Tips from the Australian Federal Police

While it’s unlikely you’ll be targeted, it’s wise to stay aware and know how to recognise suspicious situations. Here are some essential tips from the AFP to help you protect yourself from becoming a money mule:

  • Be sceptical of too-good-to-be-true job offers: If a job opportunity sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always research the business, check for a legitimate online presence, and verify their contact details.
  • Avoid suspicious online posts: Steer clear of posts offering large sums of money for minimal work. These are often scams.
  • Guard your personal information: Never share your banking or personal details with anyone you don’t know or trust.
  • Reject suspicious requests: If someone asks to use or ‘borrow’ your account, firmly say no.
  • Trust your instincts: If something feels off, trust your gut and reject the offer. Stay vigilant and cautious.

If you believe you have fallen victim to money muling, you should:

  1. Stop all communication
  2. Do not make any further transfers
  3. Call your bank
  4. Report it to police using the Report button on the Cyber.gov.au website

Other sources of help