Online Abuse, Money Mules, Prevent Review & More



The prevalence of abuse against women on social media was highlighted by a number of high-profile women as part of International Women’s Day events in Northern Ireland.  According to a BBC report, Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, described it as the biggest obstacle facing women in public life and likely to impact on the decisions of young women to become involved in politics.  Tackling those who spread the abuse can be difficult due to anonymity online and the lack of verification of user’s identities when setting up accounts.

Online abuse and harassment is the most significant safety challenge facing journalists, leading the UK Government this month to publish a national action plan to protect them. The plan acknowledges the risks that journalists face personally as well as the challenge that online abuse poses to freedom of expression.   There has been a commitment from both Twitter and Facebook to respond promptly where they are advised of threats to journalists’ safety.  The Online Safety Bill when passed will also impose greater obligations on large online platforms to better protect their users.  The Home Office will be issuing a call for evidence on the topic early this year and the government intends to publish an Online Media Literacy Strategy to increase public understanding of the role of journalism and its importance to democracy.


Money mules are people who allow their bank accounts to be used to launder the proceeds of crime in return for retaining some of the money.  They may be asked to receive and transfer funds or to purchase crypto-currencies or gift cards to disguise the origin of the funds.  Latest statistics on money mule activity in 2020 show a 12% drop (to 8,791) in the numbers of under 21’s but an increase of 5% in young people in their 20’s (17,157) compared with 2019.  The research published by Cifas suggests that teens have been harder for criminals to contact face to face during lockdown but that the older age group have been exploited as a result of job and financial insecurity.  Criminals tend to recruit via social media, phishing emails or job ads for roles such as “money transfer agents” or “local processors”.  Mike Haley, the CEO of Cifas warns that money mule activity is illegal, that banks have sophisticated technology to detect it and that, if caught, young people risk account closure and difficulties in obtaining future credit.  The Don’t Be Fooled Campaign gives advice on how to recognise risky recruitment practices and highlights how money mules enable serious crimes including trafficking and terrorism. 


The writer, William Shawcross, has been appointed to lead the independent review of the Prevent strategy.  He acknowledges the threats posed by Islamist and Far-Right extremists amongst others and in his letter to the Prevent network, sets out his desire to hear the views from different communities including both critics and supporters of Prevent.  The aim of the review is to assess the effectiveness of the current strategy and to make recommendations for the future.


Yet another risk arising from the pandemic is a scam involving criminals making contact with people who are owed money by insolvent companies and claiming to be from the Official Receiver or the Insolvency Service.  They may offer to help recover funds in return for an up-front payment.  These scams can appear convincing, using official logos or spoofing legitimate telephone numbers.  The Insolvency Service warns that paying a fee will not give you priority as a creditor and legitimate services will never ask for one.  Any request to pay an up-front fee is likely to be a scam.

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