Police in Kirklees say they have prevented 20 teenagers from becoming “money mules” for organised crime.

Specialist officers and financial investigators from Kirklees Programme Precision Team visited 20 teenagers aged between 14 and 18 to warn they were being groomed by criminal gangs.

Police believe organised crime groups (OCGs) were seeking to make the teenagers “money mules” in an offence known as “squaring.”

Officers treated the teenagers as potential victims of organised criminals seeking to groom them into committing crime.

The young people were believed to have been targeted on social media through platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram.

“Squaring” is a fraud offence in which criminals target often young and vulnerable people, and offer them a fee to either receive cash in their account or to set up a bank account for this purpose. The recipient is then told to transfer on the money by the sender.

The cash itself is linked to crime and officers have found victims have been approached often by means of deception through word of mouth, social media and even fake job adverts.

In most cases no fee is ever paid to the “money mules” and those targeted often don’t realise they have committed offences.

They can end up being threatened by criminals seeking to continue to exploit them and also ruin their own potential future prospects as those caught can be blacklisted by banks and unable to access credit.

Huddersfield Police Station

Det Chief Insp Diane Johnson, of Kirklees Police, said: “Programme Precision was established to both combat serious organised crime in West Yorkshire and to protect communities from its insidious effects, and this has been the basis for our recent operation.

“Through investigation, we were able to identify and speak to teenagers who we believe criminals were trying to exploit and safeguard them from being used by these people and dragged into criminal activity.

“The young persons are very much being treated as victims as they have been put at risk by criminals seeking to both exploit and groom then into wider criminal activity.

“More operations of the type carried out this week are planned and we continue to appeal to residents to contact us with any information about organised crime in their communities.”

More information about squaring can be found at https://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/advice/fraud-and-financial-crime/fraud-and-financial-crime/money-mules-also-known-squaring

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This policing operation has achieved some great outcomes in helping to prevent a number of young people from being exploited, and the knock-on trauma that causes to their families and wider communities. My thanks to DCI Johnson and all those involved in the Programme Precision Team.

“Interventions like this really do highlight the importance of community intelligence and reporting suspicions when you have them.

“We all have a responsibility to safeguard young people, and look out for each other in general, so please do get in touch with the police or Crimestoppers in 0800 555 111 if you have any concerns.”