Mexican Traffickers Recruit ‘Drug Mules’ With Newspaper Ads

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Mexico’s drug trafficking gangs are increasingly using newspaper ads to recruit couriers unaware of their cargo, a tactic that is both inexpensive for criminal groups and difficult for authorities to counter.

As the Associated Press reports, drug traffickers have been advertising jobs for security guards, housecleaners, and cashiers in the classified ads of Mexican papers, mentioning that applicants will need to drive company cars to the United States and therefore must be able to legally cross the border.

Border officials say they have reason to believe the trend is on the rise, primarily in the San Diego area. Since February 2011, 39 people who claimed to have fallen for the misleading ads have been arrested at the city’s two border checkpoints. In total, police have seized 3,400 pounds of marijuana, 75 pounds of cocaine, and 100 pounds of methamphetamine from individuals tied to the scam. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a counterstrike against the technique this week, purchasing ads (pictured) in Tijuana newspapers to alert job-seekers to the trap. However, Victor Clark of Tijuana’s Binational Center for Human Rights tells the AP that the measure may not work, as the ICE ads offer no instruction on how to identify legitimate companies.

InSight Crime Analysis

For the same reasons that it is effective, recruitment through newspaper advertisements will be difficult for authorities to crack down on: the mule ads are difficult to differentiate from true job ads, and offer an income generating activity that is seemingly legitimate.

As InSight Crime reported, the lack of employment opportunities in Mexico has only enhanced criminal organizations’ role as job suppliers. The classified advertisement technique means that criminal groups can now target even those who are looking for honest jobs.

According to the Associated Press, the hired drivers often make between $50 and $200 per trip, incurring little cost to drug traffickers who pay experienced couriers anywhere between $1,500 and $5,000 each trip. The fact that many of the recruited employees are unaware that they are transporting drugs offers another advantage for criminal groups, because the couriers appear less worried as they pass through border inspection.

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