Middle-aged people are increasingly being lured by criminals into becoming money mules, according to fraud prevention service Cifas.
It said it has seen a 35% year-on-year increase in 2018 in activity involving 40 to 60-year-olds.
The findings show that being drawn into such criminality is not a problem limited to younger generations, Cifas said.
Cases involving money mule activity generally were up by 26% in 2018 compared with 2017, it said.
Money mules help criminals to launder money and they may be targeted through social media with the promise of being able to make easy money.
Sometimes criminals enticing people to be money mules may pose as genuine employers advertising jobs.
A money mule shares their bank details, allowing cash which may be the proceeds from crimes to flow through their account and into other accounts – potentially so that other crimes can be committed.
Fraudsters may target people as money mules who do not have a criminal background, in the hope that the payments will slip more easily under the radar.
Money mules may not initially realise they are committing a crime.
But people who try to stop being money mules once they have started may be threatened with violence by the criminals who roped them in.
If they are caught they could face prison, as well as consequences for their ability to manage their finances, such as having their bank account closed and finding it difficult to apply for credit in the future.
The research also found that young adults and the over-60s bore the brunt of a surge in identity scams last year, with the overall number of such cases increasing to a record high, according to fraud prevention service Cifas.
Identity fraud significantly increased in 2018, with 189,108 cases recorded – an 8% increase on 2017’s figures.
Many cases involved plastic cards, Cifas said.
It said cases involving victims aged 21 and under increased by 26%, compared with the previous year, while those involving the over-60s saw a 34% increase.
As older people may be more likely to be approved for credit, and this age group is increasingly going online, they are finding themselves targeted by fraudsters, Cifas said.
Chief executive of Cifas, Mike Haley, said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.
“From identity theft through to using the young and naive as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.”