Skip to main content

Children tricked into opening criminal bank accounts

We might not immediately think of children when we hear the words ‘financial fraud.’ But the reality is that more and more young people are finding themselves the victims of child financial exploitation. Being groomed online to open bank accounts and launder criminal money. 


A rising trend

Girl looking up at phone screen in bed, in the dark.

A rising trend

Emma is a Project Worker helping young people who are at risk of, or experiencing, exploitation.

'We’re seeing a lot of young people being groomed into doing fraudulent things, like opening bank accounts for criminals.'

‘The young person is the only one who ends up getting in trouble, because by the time the accounts have been shut down, it’s the young person who is investigated.’

Criminals befriend young people through social media, and groom them through online games. They offer them gifts, promise easy money, gaming credits, skins or cryptocurrency. Once they’ve gained a young person’s trust, they force them to carry out fraudulent activities, like opening a bank account for them. This is child financial exploitation.

Exploitation through social media

With the ongoing cost of living crisis, children are at even greater risk. Criminals exploit the rising cost of living to target vulnerable children.

‘There are Instagram accounts where you see 20 year olds and 19 year olds driving Lamborghinis, with big Gucci bags and thousands of pounds. It’s enticing to young people.’

‘Then they get a message saying, “Do you want to know how to make quick money?” The young person believes this person is out to help them.’

All this can happen quite quickly. Before you know it, they're tricked into fraudulent criminal activities.

A convicted child can face:

5-7 years

the length of time a child can have their bank account suspended

14 years

the possible prison sentence for a young person

Broken promises

‘They think they're going to get money. They’re promised, £10,000 and all they need is access to the young person’s bank card.’

But when the young person gives them their bank details, the money is drawn out as quickly as it goes in. And they are left with the consequences.

It's then that they get in trouble, their account has been frozen or suspended.

All the risk falls on the young person, just as with other forms of exploitation. Too often, their exploiters can avoid the consequences, unless agencies like the police and social support services work together to target the real criminals.

school girl walking through train station looking at phone

What is Financial Exploitation?

A growing concern across the country involves criminals approaching children and young people online through gaming and social media platforms, and in places like shops and cashpoints with offers of quick cash and fake job opportunities, only to use and control their bank accounts to commit fraud and launder money from organised crime. 

A spiral of exploitation

Cycle of exploitation

‘They don’t realise what has been done to them is going to have a massive effect on their future.’

Victims can have their bank accounts suspended for five to seven years and in the worst cases, young people in their teens, can face up to 14 years in prison.

A suspended bank account means that a young person is unable to get a job to earn money or plan for their future. 

It can also push children further into a cycle of exploitation. Criminals will exploit the fear of punishment. They will threaten to tell the authorities unless the young person sends indecent images of themselves or agrees to carry drugs over county lines.

Girl looking out of window, worried.

Offering a solution

‘The law offers protection for banks but ends up pushing many young people further into exploitation, because they have to make money to survive.’

We're looking to change the way that banks respond to these cases.

Changing the language

Teen boy looking at a video game screen.

‘If a young person has been exploited, we need to make sure they're not then seeing repercussions when they are older, when they are older and trying to access University and jobs.’

‘We are changing the language that banks and organisations use to refer to these young people, from “money mules” to victims of “child financial exploitation”.’

‘This is to move away from dehumanising language. To remind individuals that we need to be viewing young people as people too.’

Young people have the right to safe digital lives. We’re working hard to make sure everyone understands the risks and to give young people and adults advice on how to spot the signs of online exploitation. Our accredited e-learning training — Act on Exploitation — is there to help your company create safer spaces for young people, your colleagues and customers.