A collective of international experts in human trafficking aims to stop people being duped into carrying drugs across international borders.
MULE, which includes Tauranga-based international criminal defence lawyer Craig Tuck, is a network of lawyers, technology and media specialists, scam survivors, investigators and family members of individuals facing serious criminal charges overseas.
Mr Tuck says the internet, often through online dating sites, is used with increasing success by illegal drug syndicates to groom, manipulate and recruit people into knowingly or unwittingly becoming narcotics traffickers, or "drug mules".
If caught these often vulnerable people can be liable to face the death penalty or long prison sentences in a foreign jurisdiction, Mr Tuck says.
MULE's website, www.stopmulevictims.org, provides advice and resources to those facing overseas charges as a result of online and other scams, and hosts a network of specialist lawyers who might be able to assist.
"It is crucial that those arrested for serious crimes in foreign jurisdictions get immediate assistance to maximise their chances of the best possible outcome in their cases," Mr Tuck says.
Despite the growing sophistication of the criminal enterprises that conduct such scams, combatting them, by identifying their tactics and educating the public, has been "off the global radar" until now, he says.
MULE members have rallied together to "fight against all forms of human trafficking", Mr Tuck says, "which is at the heart of the problem and often involves the economically and emotionally disadvantaged".
"Human exploitation and the trade in human misery have always existed, but the internet now gives those trading in exploitation and misery, including international criminal cartels and terrorist organisations, global reach.
"Without any action now, a very real frightening manifestation of this exploitation is likely to occur in three to five years' time that will impact not only the innocent and vulnerable, but on governments' security everywhere," he says.