What Is a Drop Address?
In criminal slang, a drop address is the delivery point where illegally acquired – and/or illegal – goods will be moved to for pickup by someone else, in other words, “dropped”.
Sometimes the drop happens in real time, with the recipient meeting the mule in person to receive the package or make an exchange.
More often though, the item might be left there briefly or for a while before being picked up by the intended criminal/their associate.
It also might be received by an associate or unwitting participant, such as someone who thinks they are doing a kind stranger a favor.
Drop addresses can be used for various purposes, but they are all illegal:
- To receive banned items bought on the dark web (e.g. drugs, illegal firearms)
- To receive items bought using stolen money
- To receive items bought for purposes of money laundering
- To receive contraband imported from abroad
- To receive illegal items (e.g. prescription pharmaceuticals, banned substances)
- To receive items intended for terrorist purposes
- As the delivery point for goods involved in reshipping fraud
The term “drop address” is closely related to another slang term: bank drop. While the bank drop is a bank account that receives illegitimate money, the drop address receives illegitimate goods.
How Are Drop Addresses Chosen?
For fraudsters, a good drop address is:
- Accessible to a few – ideally only to them
- Somewhere without CCTV
- A place they can reach privately without being seen
- A location they have a plausible excuse to be, if they are caught
- Not associated with the criminal or their public-facing life in any way
In theory, a drop address can be anywhere, but because they involve receiving items that are stolen, prohibited, banned or otherwise illegal, fraudsters will not “burn” their real address or any other locations they are associated with, such as addresses belonging to friends, family or property they own.
What Do Drop Addresses Have to Do with Mules?
Reshipping mules use drop addresses in two ways: They are either the address where the mule themselves receives the goods, or the place to which they forward the reshipped goods.
A Hao et al paper from 2015, which scrutinizes the activity of mules, states that
“criminals refer to reshipping mules also as drops, a term derived from requests for mules which are often titled ‘drops for stuff”.
This is why some use the term “drop address” to refer to the physical location where the reshipping mule receives the items, even if it is the mule’s home address.
Money mules can be oblivious to the illegal nature of the work they are doing. So, if they are the ones receiving the goods – running the drop address but do not know they are involved in unlawful activity, they are not likely to take steps to hide it.
Reshipping mules who are oblivious to the fact they are helping defraud ecommerce businesses are often caught via means of identifying their drop addresses, which could implicate them in more crimes than they did, since they can be accused of masterminding the operation.
How Do Drop Addresses Work?
The goal with any drop address is to make the delivery process look entirely inconspicuous, normal and legitimate. Barring that, a criminal might simply attempt to have the drop happen as far away as possible from prying eyes.
So a drop address could be in the middle of a forest, a remote location or even a quiet street in the suburbs.
The drop process itself can involve accomplices or other participants who might not know what they are being implicated in, often having been recruited online.
- A fraudster takes over a recently abandoned house in a neighborhood where people keep to themselves.
- They might do some work on it to make it look lived in, such as mowing the lawn or even turning on the lights.
- The drop is delivered to the house via courier service, by an associate or unknowing accomplice.
- The criminal, usually in light disguise (so as to not draw attention but remain unidentified), picks up the item.
Can a PO Box Be a Drop Address?
In theory, a PO box can be used as a drop address.
However, it would not be a smart move, because even for those providers who promise “anonymous” PO boxes, it is still possible to identify their owner once it has been proven they are used for unlawful drops.
Moreover, such facilities are usually high security and have several cameras recording activity 24/7.
Are Drop Addresses Illegal?
Strictly speaking, setting up a location as a drop address is not illegal, as long as no drop has taken place.
Since the item to be dropped has been acquired illegally and/or is an illegal item itself, though, the act of receiving it is equally unlawful – and, for those who get caught, any proof they set up the drop address to receive the item and arranged the delivery can be used in court as further evidence of their crime.
Specifically, in the US, making and receiving drops is classed as access device fraud, which is a federal crime.
It is normally tried in the state where the offense occurred. Similar laws apply in other countries and regions, where the illegal act of obtaining or moving the merchandise is what the authorities are focused on, with the drop address acting as one part of the incriminating evidence.
Drop addresses are not the only way fraudsters utilize to work securely. They’ll also try to launder money through fintechs, iGaming and several other businesses.
How Does It Work?
Michael B. Cohen Law Firm: Federal Access Device Fraud
Keving Borgolte: Drops for Stuff: An Analysis of Reshipping Mule Scams
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