I wonder if there is a word for the situation (or the person involved) when someone is inadvertently helping a criminal without knowing that the person is, in fact, a criminal?

For example, you work as an office-boy in a company, and your boss is asking you to deliver cases to other parties, but you do not know the content of it. In reality, you are delivering suitcases filled with guns or narcotics.

Another example is when you are lodging your cousin who wants to stay with you for a few days but he is a convict, and you are not aware of it yet.

  • Helping them in what way/s? Apr 5, 2018 at 18:39
  • We basically answered this in another question re doing something when the specified person does not know it. The word is: unbeknownst to me. Unbeknownst to me, I was helping a criminal.
    – Lambie
    Apr 5, 2018 at 20:49
  • @Lambie Great word. Is it not an adverb?
    – Stan
    Apr 5, 2018 at 21:36
  • I have no idea without thinking about it or looking it up. That said, it does mean doing something without realizing you are doing it, which is the meaning sought here.
    – Lambie
    Apr 5, 2018 at 21:38
  • 11
    Why specifically should it be both a single word and a verb? It would normally be better to find the most natural way to express this idea, so you must have some specific requirement you haven't shared which makes your question make sense. Could you add that to your question?
    – user28567
    Apr 5, 2018 at 22:34

9 Answers 9


Someone who helps a criminal without knowing it is referred to as an unwitting accomplice (unwitting means not done on purpose and accomplice means a person who helps another person commit a crime):

She was an unwitting accomplice to tax fraud. (She didn't know that she was helping someone to commit tax fraud)

  • Unwitting or unknowing is often used in reports of how crimes progressed.
    – Stan
    Apr 5, 2018 at 18:38
  • 1
    I'm sorry, but that's the closest thing I could come up with. I think unwitting accomplice is actually the official term for this. Apr 5, 2018 at 18:46
  • 7
    @TeoCarter you should avoid changing your Q in such a way that the existing valid answers become invalid.
    – MWB
    Apr 5, 2018 at 22:15
  • 1
    Thanks, I suppose unwitting alone can be used in sentences. This answer satisfies the question. Accepted
    – Wolf G
    Apr 6, 2018 at 5:04
  • 4
    @TeoCarter You accepted this so maybe change your question title? The accepted answer is actually wrong when looking at the question.
    – EpicKip
    Apr 6, 2018 at 13:55

dupe. TFD

n. A person who is easily deceived or is used to carry out the designs of another.

tr.v. duped, dup·ing, dupes To deceive (an unwary person).

As in: Y=criminal. X=dupe

X was duped by Y into participating in a crime.



a person who serves merely to support or assist others, particularly in doing unpleasant work
"you fell for that helpless-female act and let her make you a stooge"

move around aimlessly; drift or cruise.
"she stooged around in the bathroom for a while"

(in magic tricks someone is called an "instant stooge" when they are used in a trick to make it work without knowing they are helping ie activating a prop or reacting thinking one thing is going on when the audience sees something else going on)

  • A valid answer, but definitely much more common in American English than elsewhere.
    – Spudley
    Apr 7, 2018 at 19:11

Depending on the intentions of the criminal, "patsy" might be a good word for it. "Pigeon", "goat", "scapegoat", "pawn", and "dupe" might work in the same context as well.

  • 3
    Note that the OP is asking for verbs, most of your answers are nouns.
    – JJJ
    Apr 6, 2018 at 1:18

I believe the term that you can use is "unintentional accessory".

The definition for "accessory" in a legal sense is defined by Collins as:

  1. [H]elping in an unlawful act.

Additionally, you can find this term used in literature. For example:

... If the law has been outraged, the gentleman has been at least an unintentional accessory and whether this fact...

Hope this is helpful!

  • 5
    By definition, an accessory implies knowledge of a crime (or at least that a crime will be committed). 'Unintentional accessory' is rarely used (Googled it) and seems like a contradiction in terms.
    – JJJ
    Apr 5, 2018 at 19:42
  • The reference cited is from 1886, and I agree that "unintentional accessory" sounds a bit awkward in 2018. But I've heard of unwilling accessory and innocent accessory
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 6, 2018 at 5:48
  • You can quote from Wikipedia, "accessory" actually fits en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. It doesn't matter if it's not a verb, the term will help other visitors to the site.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 6, 2018 at 5:53

In the specific instance of someone smuggling something without knowing about it (the example given), the term is a "blind mule".

This specifies that the mule in question is unaware that he/she is smuggling, and seems to be reasonably common usage in the USA at least:




He was facilitating the crime. It's not really completely satisfactory since it does not imply "unwittingly", but it's better than "aiding and abetting" which strongly implies "wittingly" as it is a legal term and thus requires intent.


use (TFD)

as a verb:

To behave towards in a particular way for one's own ends.
"He used people to attain his nefarious goals."

To seek or achieve an end by means of; exploit.
"She used her highly placed friends to gain access to the president."

A real-life example: one of my friends today was gossipping about how one of our classmates used another to get her an illegal drug.


To aid or abet would fit this requirement within the context of criminal activity according to my arrest record.

"He was not guilty of murder but was guilty of aiding and abetting others."
synonyms: assist, aid, help, lend a hand to, support, back, encourage

  • Thanks, Stan but the definition of Abet, according to the dictionary, is encourage or assist someone to commit (a crime). which is not really what I'm looking for.
    – Wolf G
    Apr 5, 2018 at 18:43
  • 2
    @TeoCarter Since when is help not to assist? Downvote?
    – Stan
    Apr 5, 2018 at 18:48
  • 1
    Sorry, I was busy adding examples to the question. No, Stan, I did not downvote. Yes, abet is assisting someone to commit a crime but what I'm looking for is helping someone to commit a crime without realizing it. As you will understand from the provided examples.
    – Wolf G
    Apr 5, 2018 at 19:01
  • 2
    "If you assist someone else in doing something wrong, offering any kind of support or encouragement, you abet that person." The legal opinion, at least in the US, was laid down in 1938 and clarified in 2014. An abettor must have "reasonable foreknowledge to quit the crime".
    – bishop
    Apr 6, 2018 at 2:54
  • 5
    You must have reasonable foreknowledge to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a criminal: if you lack that knowledge, you still aided and abetted them, it's just no longer a crime.
    – Useless
    Apr 6, 2018 at 12:06

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