Dozens of Older U.S. Citizens Unknowingly Acted as International Drug Smugglers

A drug-smuggling scam has ensnared dozens of older American citizens, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

Elderly citizens have become unwitting drug smugglers to nations with severe penalties for drug-related charges, such as New Zealand and Australia, ABC News reports. A. Scott Brown, Acting Assistant Director of Investigative Programs for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, spoke about the scam Wednesday during a hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

Officials said 144 people have been intercepted for allegedly transporting drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy. Fifteen people affiliated with a transnational criminal organization were also arrested.

More than 30 elderly Americans are still incarcerated abroad in connection with the scam. A 97-year-old man who was involved in the scheme was stopped by Homeland Security agents before leaving the United States.

Drug traffickers entice their victims by promising them an inheritance or business opportunity, and then asking them to fly abroad, all expenses paid, to meet with “attorneys” or “business partners,” ICE officials said. The victims are asked to take seemingly harmless items with them for their business contacts. The items, which contain drugs, have included chocolates, picture frames, tea, markers, canned goods, shampoo bottles, soap and wooden hangers.

The victims were recruited through social media, cyber begging and telemarketing fraud. “Perpetrators take advantage of the fact that elderly Americans may be lonely and not have the Internet savvy to recognize the scam,” ICE said in a news release.

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