By: Sharon Aron Baron
A new safety warning has been issued about a scam targeting older Americans who are conned into being unwitting drug mules to countries with severe penalties for drug related charges.
“Given that South Florida is so often targeted by con artists, we must make sure our community is informed,” warned U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials issued the warning today and said that the average age of the 144 couriers was 59; the oldest of these was 87. The oldest individual conned as a part of this scheme was 97; however, HSI special agents identified him before he left the United States to participate in the endeavor and convinced him to abandon his travel plans because he was likely to be another victim.
The victims were recruited via social media, cyber begging and telemarketing fraud. Investigators believe over 30 individuals from the United States remain incarcerated overseas.
“Those who target vulnerable populations, to include our elderly, are among the worst kinds of criminals. Heart breaking does not begin to describe some of these case details,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “It is the job of law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice, but it is all of our jobs to teach our own loved ones to be vigilant against these kinds of schemes.”
The ruse entices victims with a promise of an inheritance or business opportunity and the requirement that they fly to various countries to meet with “attorneys” or “business partners,” with all travel and expenses paid by the transnational criminal organization. On the final leg of the trip, the victims are asked to take seemingly harmless items along with them for their business contacts at the next location. Upon arrival and inspection, these innocuous items are found to contain drugs resulting in detention and arrest by local authorities. The drugs are concealed in everything from chocolates, picture frames, tea and markers to canned goods, shampoo bottles, soap and wooden hangers.