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ESSEX Police has written to schools, academies and colleges, to warn pupils and their parents about child exploitation by gangs.
The force is promoting a national campaign dubbed ‘Don’t Be Fooled’, which warns youngsters about being recruited as ‘money mules’.
Gangs offer money to children in return for allowing criminals to use their bank accounts.
DCI Stuart Truss, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: “Young people are targeted due to their vulnerability. It’s a form of child exploitation.”
In 2018, there were 5,819 detected cases of people aged between 14 and 18 allowing their bank accounts to be used for criminal activity. The figure represented a 20 per cent increase since 2017.
DCI Truss said: “Young people should never agreed to share their bank details with anyone they do not know and trust. This exposes them to far greater risks, in addition to the risk to their financial status.
“It could make them liable to prosecution or further increase the potential for them to be exploited by organised crime groups.”
The force has sent information to schools and colleges and asked them to pass it on to parents and guardians.
Essex Police warned: “Make sure your child doesn’t give their bank account details to anyone unless they know and trust them.
“Tell them to be cautious of unsolicited offers of easy money, because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Look out for your child suddenly having extra cash, buying expensive new clothes or electronics with very little explanation as to how they got the money.
“A young person involved in money muling may become more secretive, withdrawn or appear stressed.”
The force urged parents and guardians not to directly contact anybody they suspect of organising money muling.
Instead, it asked them to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.