Drug Muling for Love

Prof. Monica Whitty1
1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

In 2014 Maria Exposto (an Australian grandmother) was arrested in Malaysia, accused of drug trafficking. She had been caught with 1.1 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine at Kuala Lumpur airport. As the expert witness on this case my testimony helped the judge to understand that Maria had been a victim of a romance scam and it was reasonable, given how the scam operates, to argue that she was oblivious to being involved in drug trafficking. This paper draws from my extensive work on romance scams and other types of cyberscams (e.g., Buchanan & Whitty, 2014; Whitty, under preparation; in press_a; in press_b; 2018,  2015a,b, 2013, Whitty & Buchanan, 2016, 2012; Whitty & Joinson, 2009) to provide a framework that explains how victims are drawn into romance scams and unknowingly become involved as drug mules. I consider 5 cases of romance scam drug mules cases and extend upon my Scammers’ Techniques model to explain how victims are manipulated by cybercriminals to comply with their requests. This involves a stage approach in addition to drawing from psychological theories on persuasion, control, and decision-making and theories and research in media and communication on hyper-personal relationships and trust and deceit in the online environment to explain how a person might be tricked into believing that were complying with the requests of a friend or an online lover that were completely unrelated to drug trafficking.


Professor Monica Whitty is a Chair in Human Factors in Cybersecurity at The University of Melbourne and holds a part-time Chair at The University of Warwick in the GCHQ Cyber Security Centre. She has been researching online behaviour and online security for over 20 years. She is the author of 5 books (including, Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet, Routledge) with another 2 forthcoming (with Oxford University Press) and over 100 refereed publications. Prof. Whitty is currently still leading a large grant in the UK titled: ‘Detecting and Preventing Mass-Marketing Fraud’ (EPSRC) and a grant on e-safety (UoM).



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