Senate Aging Committee and Department of Homeland Security Unveil New Scam Perpetrated Against our Nation’s Seniors: How Global Drug Traffickers Are Deceiving Seniors to Unknowingly Smuggle Drugs Across International Borders
Based on Current Estimates, 44 Americans are Incarcerated Abroad as a Result of this Scam
Washington, D.C.—The Senate Special Committee on Aging, led by Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, unveiled today a new, disturbing scam perpetrated against our nation’s seniors.
The hearing titled, “Do You Know What Is in Your Suitcase? How Drug Traffickers Are Deceiving Seniors to Smuggle Contraband,” examines a new scheme in which global drug traffickers deceive seniors to unknowingly smuggle drugs across international borders. At least 145 victims, the majority of whom are seniors, have been arrested by foreign governments for carrying a total of 272 kilograms of methamphetamine, 209 kilograms of cocaine, 4 kilograms of ecstasy, and 11 kilograms of heroin, all believed to be related to transnational criminal organizations. Based on current estimates, 44 Americans remain incarcerated overseas as a result of this scam.
“The criminals who set this chain of events into motion are cruel, but also very, very clever,” said Senator Collins. “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that seniors and their families become aware of these criminals’ techniques and take action to protect themselves and their loved ones from these heartless criminals.”
Senator McCaskill added,“This drug mule scam, for instance, could appear real to some seniors, especially when they board a plane and fly overseas without having to pay for it. The only way we can really put a dent into this problem is by putting these guys behind bars.”
This scam begins when a criminal organization draws an unsuspecting senior into a web of deceit by first forming a personal, often online relationship with them. The criminals then trick the individual into traveling overseas under a pretense, such as collecting money that has been won in a “lottery” or recovering important documents in person. The criminals cover the cost of international travel for their victim and create a complicated itinerary that requires the senior to travel to at least one other country and carry a package or suitcase with him. Unbeknownst to the senior, these packages have drugs carefully hidden inside. At least 145 victims, mainly seniors, have been arrested overseas because they have been found carrying illegal drugs.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol have created a joint operation they have dubbed “Operation Cocoon” to work with U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to combat this scam. They discussed this operation for the first time publicly at Wednesday’s Aging Committee Hearing. ICE has prevented at least 16 seniors from becoming victims. Foreign authorities have arrested 15 subjects affiliated with criminal organizations as a result of Operation Cocoon.
Witnesses for the hearing include:
- Andy Martin. Son and power of attorney for Dresden, Maine, victim Joseph Bryon Martin. Read Mr. Martin’s testimony HERE.
- Daniel Seibert. Video testimony from Daniel Seibert, a senior from Arizona who nearly fell victim to this scheme. View Mr. Seibert’s video testimony HERE.
- Scott Brown. Assistant Director of Investigative Programs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Washington, D.C. Read Mr. Brown’s testimony HERE.
- Jill Steinberg. Senior Counsel, Office of the Deputy Attorney General. Read Ms. Steinberg’s testimony HERE.