Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

The Money Mule: Its Discursive Construction and the Implications

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

The Money Mule: Its Discursive Construction and the Implications

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  I. INTRODUCTION                                 1008 II. THE REALITY CONSTITUTED BY THE DISCOURSE     (CONTENT)                                   1012  A. The Money Mule                              1012  B. The Criminal Behind the Mule                1015  C. The Financial Institutions                  1017 III. HOW THE DISCURSIVE REALITY IS CONSTITUTED      (MECHANISMS)                               1018  A. Narrative                                   1018  B. Visualization                               1020  C. Metaphor                                    1024 IV. WHAT FOLLOWS FROM ALL THAT?     (IMPLICATIONS)                              1026  A. Educating Citizens, Rather Than     Punishing Them                              1026  B. Being Hard on Money Transmitters, Not     on Banks                                    1027  C. Blaming Other Countries, Rather Than     Oneself                                     1029 V. CONCLUSION                                   1030 


According to law enforcement authorities, the proceeds of cybercrime are typically laundered by so-called money mules, used by cybercriminals to break the paper trail of money stolen from people's bank accounts or credit cards through Internet fraud such as phishing. The criminals normally recruit money mules in Western countries so that they do not have to transfer the stolen money directly to their own bank accounts, as this would make it rather easy for law enforcement to discover the beneficiaries. Often, at least according to the sources examined here, the money mules do not know that they are part of a criminal operation, as they have replied to fake job offers or scam emails, which make them believe they work as "financial agents" for legitimate companies. The criminals transfer the proceeds of their crime to their "financial agents'" bank accounts and then ask them to withdraw the money and pay it to a money transmitter like Western Union or MoneyGram, to transfer it to the criminals in Eastern Europe or West Africa. For his or her services, the money mule receives a commission.

This Article takes issue with the role of the money mule in international money laundering. However, instead of addressing the topic from an objectivist and positivist perspective which seeks to identify the principle facts, variables, and causal mechanisms, the Article looks at the money mule from the inter-subjectivist and post-positivist perspective of discourse analysis. The goal of such a discourse approach is to understand how what is considered the taken-for-granted reality (here, of money laundering) has been constituted in discourse.

The first Part of the Article reconstructs the international discourse about the money mule in order to identify the content of the mule-constructions: How is the money mule process constituted in discourse? The money mule is typically characterized as an innocent victim who is not aware of the criminal nature of what he or she is doing but simply wants to earn some extra money. The criminals, according to the discourse, are not some petty criminals, but members of complex networks of organized crime. The criminal organizations are directed either from Eastern Europe, notably Russia or Ukraine, or from West Africa, especially from Nigeria. As the money is sent there via money remittance companies like Western Union, these companies constitute part of the problem.

The second Part of the Article reconstructs the discourse with a view to understanding the discursive mechanisms which establish the money mule reality: What are the discursive mechanisms through which the money mule is constituted? Here, narratives, visualizations, and metaphors bring about the money mule reality: rather than offering only dry numbers and abstract descriptions, reports of FIUs and other actors make use of narratives so that the money mule case studies they present almost read like crime thrillers. …

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